How Amal Clooney Changed the Life of This 17-Year-Old Girl in Lebanon
The new recipient of the Amal Clooney Scholarship is an energetic 17-year-old Lebanese student who speaks three languages, is an accomplished debater and student representative, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, considers herself an unabashed fan of the famous human rights lawyer.
In an interview with Fortune, scholarship winner Dalia Atallah said she shares Clooney’s passion for human rights and hopes to make a career in the field by either becoming an attorney in private practice or working for the United Nations someday.
As the second winner of the scholarship, funded by the nonprofit Aurora Humanitarian Initiative, Atallah gained a coveted $70,000 grant that covers tuition and accommodation for a female student from Lebanon at the two-year international baccalaureate program at UWC Dilijan in Armenia. UWC Dilijan, an international boarding school that opened its doors two years ago, hosts students aged 16 to 18.
The Amal Clooney Scholarship aims to strengthen cross-cultural education and understanding for Lebanese women—and to provide them with a foundation to find new opportunities. Ruben Vardanyan, who co-founded the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative, said in a statement that he was “excited by the possibilities this scholarship holds for the young women of Lebanon and the region.”
Clooney, who’s married to American actor George Clooney, set up the scholarship last year. When she launched the program, Clooney said she hoped to provide young women from Lebanon, where she was born, with “the opportunity of a lifetime.” She added that “cross-cultural learning and studying abroad can be transformative.”
According to UNICEF, the same percentage of Lebanese girls and boys attend secondary school (65%). However, women’s labor force participation rates are much lower than men’s: In Lebanon, just 22% of women who are 15 years or older work, compared to 72% of men. A recent piece in the Daily Star blamed the disparity on workplace discrimination and demands on women to stay home to focus on their domestic duties.
Just three weeks into the program, Atallah, who competed with more than 40 other students for the scholarship, seems to agree. Speaking via Skype from a pristine, white-walled room on the third floor of the academic building at UWC Dilijan, she said meeting students from countries as varied as Portugal, the U.S., New Zealand, India, China and Israel has opened her eyes to multiculturalism, and made her feel more “connected” to the world.
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“Amal Clooney changed my life,” said Atallah, who had been a student at College Protestant Francais in Beirut before starting at the program in late August. She adds that meeting people from all over the world and discussing global issues has made her feel as if Clooney “threw” her “on a small globe.”
Aside from wanting to be a human rights lawyer, Atallah has her sights on high office. In the interview, she said that from the time she was a small girl, she’s wanted to be president of Lebanon. In her home country, she said, “there are women in politics, but their positions aren’t as important as the men’s. We need fresh minds.”
According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Lebanon has one of the lowest levels of female representation in the world. Of the 193 countries tracked by the organization, Lebanon is No. 181 in terms of the percentage of seats women hold.
Atallah, who has three sisters, also said she is using the opportunity to launch a new activity on campus to empower women: Zumba belly dancing. By inviting local women to join the class, she said she would turn it into a service to provide to the surrounding community. “It’s empowering for women because it is a way for women to express themselves without being ashamed of their bodies,” said Atallah, who is fluent in Arabic, French, and English.
Atallah, whose father is a former director at a plastics company and whose mother is an event planner, said her family encouraged her to take the scholarship even though it meant she’d be away from home for an extended period of time.
“My family never told me, ‘Dalia, you are dreaming too big.'” she said. “My parents never stood in the way of my dreams.”