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A Palestinian Woman’s...

A Palestinian Woman’s Courage and Determination

My name is Elaine Rumman, I am a retired school social worker, a proud mother of six children, and a grandmother of sixteen precious grandchildren. 

I was fortunate to be brought up by parents who instilled in me faith and moral values, protected me from emotional harm, and were a positive role model for me. That kind of upbringing is a treasure money can’t buy. 

My husband George was older, charming, more educated, and grew up with the same families values as I.  In 1967, George went on a political trip to Central America a few months before Israel occupied my original country, Palestine. 

Mark Twain once said, “a true patriotic is the one who loves and supports his country not holds seats.” This exactly applied to my husband. He was a true leader, back when the Mandate of Britain was in Palestine.” 

Until my husband passed away in March 2001, he never stopped the struggle for rights and justice for Palestine. He agreed when my brother in law who was a professor at the University of Michigan suggested for him to come from Central America to the U.S because most of our children were at the college age. 

In March of 69, I entered the U.S with my children to join my husband who decided to come. When my brother in law picked us up from the airport, I asked him if there was a school of social work in Ann Arbor. He told me there is one not far from where we are going to live. Happiness touched my heart. We reached our house. It was big and pleasant. Before we moved to the U.S, my husband’s position in Palestine was the supervisor of community development of the West Bank and Jordan. Having such a prestigious job like this made it hard for him to find one as good in the U.S. Thinking of his responsibilities for his family, he quickly took a job as a salesman in an appliance store. Although he was treated respectfully, he was unhappy. He thought about going to Egypt to find a job, but fortunately four of our children managed to get jobs and earn money to pay for their living and college tuition. At this time, my dream of going to college had vanished. 

After being a stay at home wife and mother, I felt that my mind was becoming rusty and dull. Once I was driving my children to college I spotted a big sign at the Freeze building that said “School of Social Work.” On my way back, I stopped in to see what was required in order to be a student at the school. I was told I needed an undergraduate degree and previous volunteer work. Little did the counselor know that I only finished grade seven and was retained in the fifth grade. 

I never gave up, although my heart always revolved around the family first. I started volunteering at agencies that works with families and children.  When I was in Palestine, I was a member of “The Woman’s Association of Child Care.” I used to help families without a degree. My happy childhood and my upbringing helped me to believe in prevention. That’s why I was eager to get only an associates degree and go back and help families at least with a degree. 

With the blessing of God, my husband found a job at U of M in the Near East department. He was so excited and he gained his dignity back. For me, I felt that I was on top of the clouds. In the U.S you can study at any age. 

It wasn’t easy for us to adjust to this different culture, different language, different schools, and just a very different way of life. I remember my youngest son telling me that he was torn between the two cultures. 

As the family began to settle into their new life here and when my youngest turned nine years old, I told my husband that I wanted to pursue my education. He disagreed with me. During our 26 years of marriage, I never went against his decision because he based his mature, educated decision always on what he thought was best for the family. This time was different. I was a person and my opinion counted too. There was a fire growing inside me, but with a calm voice and with emphasis, I said “no, I don’t agree with you.” After that I went to my room and congratulated myself for my courage to tell my husband “no” for the first time ever. 

The next day, September 1973, I went to Washtenaw Community College and told them that I had no high school diploma, but that I was eager to learn. They accepted me. That moment was the most valuable moment for me. 

When I entered college to pursue my goals, I was 43, a wife, mother, and grandmother of two. I only took one course the first semester just to see if I can handle it. I got a B. That encouraged me to go full time. Because of our low income I was eligible for financial aid. Because of that I worked in the college bookstore. In order to not allow my husband to criticize me, I continued to still put my family first. I still baked bread and cooked authentic Arabic meals for my family. I made time to entertain guests and keep our home life as normal as possible. 

To satisfy my families needs and my school needs, many nights I stayed up until 3 a.m. My hard work did pay off. I was on the honor list twice. My high marks allowed me to transfer to the University of Michigan. 

On my Washtenaw Community College graduation day, an African American counselor handed me my certificate and said, “Elaine, keep going.” These words gave me the confidence that he believed in me and his words stayed with me throughout my journey. I kept going until I got my undergraduate degree in psychology. 

I waited one semester before I was able to get a spot at the U of M School of Social work. I still remember a counselor telling me that this school is not the right place for me if I want to study prevention. I wished there was a school of parenting because I would have gone to that, but no such school existed. Good thing I did not listen to this counselor, because at the age of 50, I graduated with a masters in social work. 

I was discouraged at the thought of someone hiring me at the age of 50 and with a very heavy accent.  Luckily after seven months I was hired in with the Arab American communities. I was the first Arab social worker who had a MSW in schools because I visited about 15 schools in the Dearborn area dealing with Arab students and families. 

During my work at ACCESS (Arab Community Center for Economic Social Services) I received an award for “Strengthening Families” from the Child Care Coordinating Council in 1986. I also received a plaque towards academic excellence and development of human relations. 

In September of 1986, Ann Arbor public schools asked me to work for them. Although I felt sad to leave to the community I had worked with for seven years, I felt relieved that I would not have to make that two hour daily commute anymore.

I wasn’t completely happy with my new job because I was not dealing with families and children. Instead I was evaluating children for special education. My aim as a social worker was for prevention and intervention to prevent problems as soon as possible alongside helping students with learning difficulties. 

I remember thinking that if you do not find a program that fits your needs, implement your own. In 1990 and after working for four years in the Ann Arbor school system, I implemented my own program titled “Proud Parent Network” on local television. With the support from of the school media, I brought together experts to discuss students and family issues. With over 60 episodes recorded, my shows continue to be shown till this day. 

I retired in 1998 at age 67. Because my husband became ill, I found it was important to spend time with him. After his death almost 54 years of marriage, I felt the need to follow in his footsteps. I became involved in many interfaith and peace groups and with whatever the community television network gave me time on their station for. I concentrated mostly on the suffering of the Palestinians because of the Israeli occupation.  One of my TV programs “A Reflection from Palestine” won first place in the political category from Philo T. Farnsworth Video Festival in 2005. 

Without raising my voice and without Washtenaw Community College opening the doors for me, I would have never been a contributing member of society. College allowed me to get a job I adore with pension and social security, which helped me to live a decent and productive life. An Arab proverb says, “Early education is like a carving in stone. Education in adulthood is like enjoying ripe fruit”

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