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Success means helping others achieve their goals, says AUS alumna
Working with the United Nations to advocate for the rights of refugees and internally displaced people was not on the radar of American University of Sharjah (AUS) alumna Siham El Najmi when she graduated in 2006.
Majoring in mass communication with a minor in international relations, El Najmi was looking at building a career as a newspaper reporter. She joined a major English-language newspaper in the UAE to kick-off her journalism career right after graduation.
“I loved my four years of journalism in the UAE with Gulf News. In fact, I started working in journalism before graduation, eventually became a crime and accidents reporter at the newspaper. I must confess it was mentally and emotionally quite challenging at times. It is also a very competitive beat. The hardest parts were when I had to interview families who had lost a loved one. I also covered high-profile crimes. I believe I am able to do the job I am doing now because of my reporting experience and the strong foundation I built at AUS,” said El Najmi.
The shift she made to working with the United Nations was unexpected. She said: “I didn’t choose it. It chose me. I left the newspaper to pursue my graduate studies in the UK. During my first month there, I suffered a severe panic attack. Subsequently, I did not feel comfortable and decided to come back home. Upon returning, I felt like a failure. At that time, a friend of mine in Lebanon suggested that I volunteer for three months at the UN agency where she was working. Since then, my life has changed, and I have been working in this exciting field for more than 11 years now.”
El Najmi is currently working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Dubai where she supports the agency’s global private sector partnerships and fundraising efforts spread across Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Middle East and North Africa region. She also worked on the refugee communication response during the crisis of the Nahr El-Bared Palestine refugee camp in Lebanon. During the height of ISIS activity in Iraqi Kurdistan, she set-up and managed a project on humanitarian communication and information for refugees and internally displaced people with an international non-governmental organization (INGO). Subsequently, she worked with UNICEF in Bangladesh and was responsible for reporting and working with donors on the Rohingya emergency response. She has also spent time working with the Office of the United Nations Country Team for the GCC, and in UNHCR Headquarters in Denmark.
El Najmi noted that her time at AUS prepared her well for the various roles she has had in her career.
“AUS taught me so much! I remember when I first enrolled at the university, I did not know what I wanted to do and where I saw myself in the future. The mass communication program, the professors, student counselling services, and the many amazing friendships I made at AUS made me who I am today,” she said.
El Najmi added: “The mass communication program at AUS taught me how to be detail-oriented, diversify my resources, how to approach people and interview them, how to write and carry out in-depth analyses. I don’t think I would have started my career successfully without the rigorous techniques my professors followed. Knowing I have the proper foundation and skills, I always feel empowered whether I am submitting a job application, writing proposals, making a presentation or writing a news article.”
Reflecting on her journey so far, El Najmi said she learned so much from the resilience and determination she saw in displaced children, youth, women and men. She also learned to challenge her own fears of living alone as a woman in some of the most dangerous environments.
“Working in the field with displaced people taught me so much about myself. I still carry with me some of the stories I have heard and the pain I have seen in people. When I get on a plane after a mission, I am always well-aware of the privilege I have of moving around freely when millions of refugees cannot leave their camps or go home. To me, achievements are not only about meeting personal goals, but also about helping others succeed in theirs,” El Najmi said.
For more information about the mass communication program at AUS, please visit www.aus.edu/masscommunciation.