"My family was very fortunate to leave Iraq before the Gulf War and settle in the middle-class suburbs of Southern California,” says senior Soraya Azzawi, the 2012-13 recipient of UCI’s XIV Dalai Lama Endowed Scholarship. “They could have easily ended up in a refugee camp. For this reason, I look forward to raising awareness of the unique challenges facing refugees globally.” Steve Zylius / University Communications

Focusing on refugees

Dalai Lama Scholar Soraya Azzawi is dedicated to raising awareness of human rights struggles and the plight of refugees around the world.

A senior dedicated to raising awareness of human rights struggles and the plight of refugees around the world has been awarded the 2012-13 UC Irvine XIV Dalai Lama Endowed Scholarship, established in 2004 to recognize students committed to ethical leadership, peace and positive global relations.

Soraya Azzawi will receive $20,000 for academic expenses; to support the publication of a journal documenting humanitarian crises affecting refugees worldwide; and to establish an English tutoring program for local refugees.

“My family was very fortunate to leave Iraq before the Gulf War and settle in the middle-class suburbs of Southern California,” Azzawi says. “They could have easily ended up in a refugee camp. For this reason, I look forward to raising awareness of the unique challenges facing refugees globally.”

Her journal will be entirely student-driven and -produced and will acknowledge Orange County’s history of accepting refugees, starting with the arrival of Southeast Asian immigrants in the 1970s, at the end of the Vietnam War. Azzawi plans to model the publication after The Yale Journal of Human Rights and address such issues faced by refugees as dislocation, post-traumatic stress disorder and legal quagmires.

A complementary project will involve providing English-language tutoring services and furniture donations in partnership with Orange County community organizations.

A member of the Campuswide Honors Program, Azzawi is majoring in neurobiology and political science and is the 2012 recipient of the Carol Becker McGaugh Award for outstanding research in the neurobiology of learning and memory.

Azzawi has taken advantage of a multitude of academic and extracurricular opportunities on campus. She served as staff writer and news editor of the campus newspaper, New University, her sophomore and junior years and conducts research in the Wood Laboratory at UCI’s Center for the Neurobiology of Learning & Memory. In the summer of 2010, she traveled to Israel, Palestine and Jordan under UCI’s Olive Tree Initiative to promote dialogue and understanding about the Middle East conflict.

As part of her Dalai Lama Scholarship award, Azzawi attended an ethical leadership assembly in June at the Institute of Noetic Sciences in Petaluma, Calif., along with Dalai Lama Scholars from Stanford University, Oberlin College, New York University, Princeton University and McGill University.

Thirteen institutions of higher learning around the world offer endowed scholarships named for the Tibetan spiritual leader. UCI’s scholarship program is the first ever sanctioned by the Dalai Lama.

“Soraya’s project is perfectly aligned with the goals of the UCI Dalai Lama Scholarship and our campus values,” said Thomas A. Parham, vice chancellor for student affairs. “Through the human rights journal and her proposed work with local refugees, Soraya will promote respect and empathy for individuals suffering from war-related trauma.

“Her aims are both academic and pragmatic, balancing intellectual curiosity and commitment to improving our world. Soraya’s intelligence and
compassion are inspirational.”

A graduate of Irvine’s University High School, Azzawi is a volunteer with No More Victims, a nonprofit that arranges U.S. medical sponsorships for war-injured children. She assisted in the treatment of a 3-year-old girl named Alaa’, who underwent surgery to remove shrapnel from her eyes after an inadvertent attack by American military forces on her home in Al Qaim, Iraq.

“Thankfully, doctors at CHOC Children’s Hospital helped restore her sight,” Azzawi said. “She’s just like any other little kid. The only difference
between her and O.C. kids is where she happens to live.”

Seeing the impact doctors can have on the lives of others has inspired Azzawi to apply to medical school. She hopes to attend one with an emphasis on global and public health.

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