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TODAY news for Thursday, March 31, 2008

Loma Linda University news

Physical therapy graduate waits to go home to Gaza Strip

Eyad Abu, MPT, (seated, third from right), enjoys a get-together with friends and colleagues. Of his friends in the Loma Linda community, Eyad says, �They are like family.�
Eyad Abu, MPT, (seated, third from right), enjoys a get-together with friends and colleagues. Of his friends in the Loma Linda community, Eyad says, “They are like family.”
Eyad Abu finished his master’s in physical therapy degree at Loma Linda University in the summer of 2007.

His wife and five children live in Rafah city, normally about a 20-minute drive from Gaza city in the area of Palestine known as the Gaza Strip.

Since August 18, 2007, he has been trying to go home, but the Israeli government has refused to grant him a permit. He is currently stranded in Amman, Jordan, hoping for some progress.

Eyad graduated in 1993 as a physical therapy assistant from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) education center, located in Gaza. In 2000, he finished his bachelor’s degree in physical therapy from the same center.

“I worked full time at Alaqsa University as a physical therapist,” Eyad explains, “and part time with the Palestine Red Crescent Society in their rehabilitation department.”

He also volunteered with a local society that provided care for mothers and children in the local community.

In April of 2004, Eyad applied for a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) scholarship and received word in July that he had been nominated.

However, he needed to pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) exam in order to formally apply for the scholarship.

During that time, Eyad would work at his two jobs during the day, arriving home around 9:00 p.m. to spend some time with his wife and kids.

Then, at around 2:00 a.m., he would awaken to study for the TOEFL exam.

“The night was scary,” he recounts. “All kinds of war sounds were around me. I needed to lie down on my stomach to study because it was dangerous to sit or stand because of gunfire.”

He typically studied until about 6:00 a.m.

When it came time to take his exam, he decided to head to Gaza city and the testing center a day early, since the exam was only offered four times a year and he didn’t want to miss it.

“Because of the siege around the city and the many check points,” Eyad points out, “the 20-minute drive could become 20 hours or even days.”

As he took the exam the next day, he worried about the safety of his family the entire time. “The news said the Israeli Defense Forces [IDF] would be attacking the area where my family lives.”

Eyad had to decide whether he would stay to take the exam or return to be with his family.

“I decided to stay,” he remembers, “but it was a very hard decision.” Eyad’s fears were fully justifiable.

For the next seven days, his family was under fire and without electricity, food, or water.

“More than 60 people were killed,” he details, “and more than 20 homes were demolished. I blamed myself for [not being there], but at the same time trusted that God would take care of them.”

Eyad received the scholarship but needed a visa from the United States Embassy in Tel Aviv. He was refused passage by the Israeli government until forces finally withdrew.

To expedite the process, he traveled to Cairo, Egypt, where he waited for three months for his visa to be processed. The visa was denied and he returned to Gaza city.

A year and a half later, Eyad was called by the Palestinian government and told that he must resign his position at the university to be granted a visa.

Not a problem! Soon he was on his way to Loma Linda University.

“Loma Linda is my second home,” Eyad smiles. “I really enjoyed staying in the dorm. It was safe, clean, and quiet, which gave me an opportunity to study.”

Eyad spent his free time with many friends in the community and enjoying Drayson Center, Loma Linda University’s recreation and fitness center.

Of his many friends, he says, “We are like family. They are very friendly and I have never felt like a stranger in this community.”

Today, Eyad is living in Amman, waiting to return to his family. Rather than sitting idly by, he volunteers at a local physical therapy clinic that treats elderly patients, including many who have suffered strokes.

“I like to work with these people,” he comments. “They remind me of my parents.”

Eyad calls his family at least twice a week. His children keep asking him, “Dad, when will you come back? We miss you.” It’s hard for Eyad to know that his family needs him and not be able to reach them.

“The situation in Gaza is very critical and dangerous,” he adds. “I follow the news every moment for updates.”

Many are being killed every day from the fighting, and others are losing their lives due to the lack of food and medicine.

“There is a complete closure and siege around Gaza Strip, and nothing can go in or out, ” he worries.

“All the time I think about my family and faith in God is the only help for me,” Eyad attests. “I pray He will protect and take care of them.”

By Larry Kidder, MA

TODAY news for Thursday, March 31, 2008