Abdallah Mohammad Houeidi

Abdallah grew up in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon. He graduated from Eton last year and is currently in his first year at Surrey University, where he is studying civil engineering.

There can’t be many teenagers who have given a public speech of much significance, but you’ve actually addressed the House of Commons…

Yes, I gave a talk to MPs. It was all about how bad the situation is for Palestinians in Lebanon. Economically, the very basics of life are often not there. There are no real facilities, for some there is little education – and many don’t have enough money to buy food. It is also hard to get visas. These areas are so much worse than the worst areas of the UK – worse even than the worst Lebanese cities.

The lack of educational opportunities must be frustrating for young people…

Very much so. My dad had a job in a hospital, but after he had children he had to quit because, as a Palestinian, he got such low wages. He had to set up a business to feed us. We didn’t have enough money to study abroad. It’s not something I could even think about. I was top of my class in maths and physics, and I’d have loved it, but it was impossible. But then Cogito got involved and I ended up at Eton!

How hard is it for refugees to adapt to exclusive schools like Eton?

Adapting to a new country is tricky, of course. I thought; ‘I can’t speak my own language, I can’t eat my own food, I can’t see anyone I know, everything is new and different.’ But I got used to it, and eventually I loved it. It definitely made me a stronger person; more independent, more confident, more open-minded, more educated about different people, communities and religions.

And as Cogito’s first funded student, you’ve become an ambassador…

Every year, I get students sending me messages about the process of coming to the UK to study and how to go about applying. Many teenagers now have ambitions to come.

That must keep you connected to your homeland?

Yes. I’m currently doing a civil engineering degree at Surrey University, but I think about helping my country all the time. I need to make myself capable of helping first, by giving myself the right tools. I hope I can do something big. The main problem back home is that Palestinians don’t have civil rights in Lebanon. We are not allowed to do a lot of the jobs, we can’t buy a house or land, it is very unfair for my people. I would love to get involved in politics and try to change that.

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