One of the first two scholarship recipients was Hanan Dahche, one of 11 children of a lathe operator, who was living in the Ein el-Hilweh refugee camp in Lebanon. When told of her chance to go to college in America, she at first asked if the scholarship could be transferred to her older brother. But the Hope Fund is committed to educating equal numbers of young women and men, and Hanan's parents were eventually persuaded to let her go. Two years into her degree, she was spending her summers at NASA, designing advanced composites for radiation shields. On graduation, she obtained further scholarships and is now completing a PhD in biochemistry at Virginia Tech. She hopes to teach at the American University of Beirut.
The other scholarship recipient in 2001 was Khaled El-Nemr, the oldest of six children whose father, a tailor, could barely support his Beirut family because of diabetes. Khaled, too, won further scholarships and is now completing a PhD in materials science engineering at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
The success of these first two students eventually made it easier for the Qubains to persuade other colleges to join their mission. They now have 12 partnering colleges, and some are offering multiple scholarships. The Hope Fund has six graduates, 16 returning students in the United States, and six more just starting in the fall.
Each student arrives with his or her own story of hardships overcome. Hiba Assi, one of six girls in an impoverished family in Lebanon's Beqaa Valley, never believed she would have a chance to go to college. A sibling had won a UN scholarship for higher education, and the program's rule was that only one scholarship could be awarded per family, no matter the other siblings' academic achievement. Nevertheless, Hiba worked hard at her studies and hoped for another miraculous kind of aid. It came in the form of a Hope Fund scholarship to Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. But just days before she was to leave, the rockets of the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah began falling. The Qubains, expecting to meet Hiba's flight, lost track of her and feared she had been killed. Instead, with her family, she risked heavily bombed roads to escape across the border to Syria, where the U.S. embassy in Damascus quickly issued her visa just days before classes were to start. She has excelled in college as a physics and math major, with a special interest in quantum dense coding.
In the fall of 2007, Yahia Abu Hashem missed what would have been his freshman year at Roanoke when Israel and Egypt closed the crossing points from Gaza in retaliation for Hamas attacks. He had recently lost his best friend to an Israeli rocket while walking by his side in Gaza. The college extended the scholarship for a year, but Gaza remained sealed. As time ran out, Yahia, desperate, camped by the crossing point into Egypt, waiting for three days and nights until he got the chance to risk making a run across the border. He arrived in Virginia sunburned and exhausted, just in time to enroll in computer science and business.