Rawan W. Ibrahim, 1992

At a time when international students were a rarity on campus, Rawan Ibrahim was a noteworthy applicant to Vermont Academy’s Class of 1992. Born in Amman, Jordan of Palestinian heritage, Rawan struggled academically and changed schools several times before ultimately being diagnosed with Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome, which can interfere with reading comprehension and focus. Rawan had family in the Boston area and she started to consider attending a boarding school in the northeastern US. Although her parents were skeptical, Rawan persisted and they eventually agreed. After ‘falling in love’ with VA’s video and brochure, she made the long trip from Amman to Saxtons River and joined her class as its sole Arab student. After a brief period of adjustment, ‘Rani’ as she came to be known at VA, started to thrive both academically and socially. She was named Most Improved Rider on the equestrian team, served the community as a tour guide and proctor, and eventually earned the prestigious Ford Improvement Prize at commencement ceremonies.

After completing her undergraduate degree in Foreign Affairs at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, Rawan earned a Masters Degree in Development Economics and International Development at The University of Manchester (UK). Her career in social work developed as a result of a chance encounter with a homeless child she found trying to sleep on the streets of Amman. Rawan and her mother took the girl, Hasna, to the police station and closely monitored her situation over time. The experience proved to be life-changing, not only for Hasna, but for Rawan.

Rawan began working for Dar Al Aman at the Jordan River Foundation, a residential care home for severely abused children, and eventually became its director. At the time, there was no foster care system in her country. Some of the children in the facility were reunited with families but others had to be placed in long-term care facilities. As she watched them progress through the system, Rawan was concerned about what would happen to them when they maxed out of care as 18 year olds. At that time, Jordan provided them no post-care policies or support.

By then, Rawan was deeply entrenched in the field of social work, and in an effort to improve her knowledge and skills, she returned to school and completed her Ph.D. at the University of East Anglia (Norwich, UK) in 2010. Upon her return to Jordan, Rawan joined the Columbia University Global Center in Amman and in collaboration with professors from the School of Social Work at Columbia University who had initiated a project with UNICEF Jordan and the Jordanian government, she created the country’s first foster care program. She served as the project’s director for four years before the administration was eventually handed over to the Jordanian government. She then worked as a consultant with UNICEF to continue growing this new model of care. The program is currently active in three cities with hope for further expansion. Rawan has also consulted with Iraq to begin foster care in that country. Due to the ongoing political strife in the area, her work has expanded to include refugee youth as well.

According to Rawan, there is a saying in her part of the world: ‘Do good and toss it in the ocean.’ Rawan’s work with the children of Jordan and elsewhere will have a ripple effect far beyond her personal reach for decades to come. Rawan lives her life as the embodiment of Vermont Academy’s Core Beliefs and we are proud to award her the Florence R. Sabin 1889 Distinguished Alumni Award.
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