Read Serena's Bio:
The first time Serena displayed devotion for the voiceless was when she was 4 years old, upon befriending her especially shy classmate, "Farah" who was regularly bullied and having trouble integrating with the other children. During a morning activity in which everyone sat in a circle, the children protested sitting next to shy and meek Farah—all except Serena who got up from her place in the circle, sat next her and gave her a big long sisterly hug. This peaked the curiosity of the other children who were moved to follow Serena's bold example, and soon after Farah became one of the most gregarious and popular students in Serena's preschool class. "You always stood up for the under-dog," explained her mother.
Serena has since exercised her natural affinity for lending a voice and empowering others. When she was 13 years old and first learned of MIIS, she was quick to pencil it in as one of her long term goals; she was intrigued and motivated when she discovered an institution which fosters shared interests of languages, philanthropy and diplomacy across a canvas of a vast array of cultures. But it would be an eventful 13 years before that opportunity would present itself. It was during that time that Serena located her purpose and life-long goal. Throughout her high school years she kept abreast of the turmoil devastating the "Holy Land", internalizing images of bombings, buildings collapsing and walls rising, amidst of a background of cries for help and words inspired by hate by both Israelis and Palestinians. What solidified her purpose was after meeting her dear friend Yacob her senior year of high school. Yacob was on a visa visiting from Ramallah. He shared his personal experiences as a Palestinian growing up in the chaos and danger Serena knew only through the news. At 20 years old, Yacob knew first-hand what is feels like to lose loved ones at the hands of the conflict. Her heart broke for Yacob and for all others who lost those dear to their hearts because of the infamously impossible divide between Israelis and Palestinians. Serena admired her closest friend for his courage and determination, and wished to emanate his strength and his eloquence to express himself in a way that resonated with others, and eternally echoed words that inspired ambition and altruism. A minor infraction caused Yacob's sudden deportation, but he promised to return to her after she graduated from college. When Yacob's daily emails came to a sudden halt Serena feared the worst. A week later her fears would be realized when she was to discover Yacob was killed in a suicide attack in Israel.
When it came time for Serena to graduate from the University of California, Davis and choose her next plan of action she was quick to say she was going to go to MIIS. Her adviser replied, "You should have some back-ups." Serena's reply was simply, "I don't need any back-ups. I am going to MIIS." All this time the conflict was at the forefront of her mind.
Since her short time here at MIIS, Serena has developed a social forum designed especially for Palestinians and Israelis to share their stories living through the conflict. It utilizes the tools of Storytelling and Speaker-Understander among others, to create a safe-haven for its users, where they can creatively express their struggles and emotions that they are experiencing. In this manner they can address the frustration that is otherwise suppressed and simmering with nowhere to go. It is meant to foster the sprig of unity between the two parties, which is "trying to grow and flourish while it is smothered underneath the weight of politics and a power-limbo, disguised in historical rhetoric". She also has developed a workshop for Palestinian children living in Gaza called, "We are the Future" meant to combat the growing pattern of aspired martyrdom amongst children; youths ages 5-15 years old will engage in activities designed to cultivate their creativity and individuality. Serena also wants these children to go on field-trips to meet Palestinians doing what they love geared towards nourishing Palestinian livelihood; lawyers, doctors, architects and artists who peacefully contribute to establishing a happy and healthy living space for Palestinians. Serena will ideally launch this workshop after she graduates. Additionally, she has volunteered at the first planned Palestinian city in the West Bank, "Rawabi" which is a non-violent means of refusing the occupation through productive rather than destructive means, by taking away attention and energy geared toward violence and hatred and instead using that energy to build up Palestinian morale through example.
While she admits she may not live to see long-withstanding peace between Israelis and Palestinians, Serena promises to be an active participant in the process and encourage continuous dialogues between the parties. Her short time at the institution has immensely empowered her and convinced her that she has a great deal of promise and skills to contribute to this conflict, and conflicts world-wide. She credits her personal growth and altruistic character to the people she has been fortunate to meet along her life journey, including her incredible and unforgettable colleagues at MIIS.