Chevening Alumni share their advice for successfully applying to Chevening. In this article, we hear from Basma Taysir El Doukhi about how her UK study experience is advancing her career in building a better future for refugees and forcibly displaced communities.

About the author

  • Name: Basma Taysir El Doukhi, 2019-2020 Chevening Alumna
  • Home country: Palestine
  • Country of residence: Lebanon
  • Course: Development and Emergency Practice
  • University: Oxford Brookes University

I work as a gender and gender-based-violence coordinator at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), an organisation dedicated to protecting human rights by providing basic health, education and social services to Palestine refugees.

I was the first Palestinian refugee to be awarded a Chevening Scholarship.

I am a refugee challenging people to think differently about how we perceive vulnerable communities of people.


What advice would you give to international students hoping to study in the UK to further their own career in this area?

  1. Think about what you’d like to gain from your year studying in the UK.

I was working at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) when I decided to apply for Chevening. I felt that I was missing the academic qualification that would complement my practical experience. I decided to take a year of unpaid study leave to gain my master’s degree.

“I felt it was time to take the opportunity to go [to the UK], to learn, to reflect on my practices… to learn from other people from other countries.”

Other reasons I wanted to study in the UK included:

  • The quality of UK education
  • The benefits of the experience for my future career prospects
  • The volunteering opportunities
  • The international exposure
  • The Chevening Alumni network
  • The opportunity to return to my own community to try to use my acquired skills and experiences for the benefit of the refugee communities I work with

When I used to read that Chevening is a life-changing experience, I was sceptical. I used to think “let me experience it… and then I can see.”

Now I can truly say that it is a life-changing experience.

“I got every opportunity to learn, to reflect, to meet people, to discover a new culture, to leave my comfort zone and to build on what I had learned before… it was really a life changing experience for me and a very important learning curve in my life.”

  1. Think about how the skills you intend to learn during your UK study year could bring positive change to other people.

I knew I wanted to continue working at UNHCR after completing my Chevening year. I wanted to return with new skills that would make me more effective in protecting refugees from sexual exploitation. I want to empower women by teaching them their rights, sharing how they’re able to seek support, and supporting them to find work so they can be financially independent.

One of our biggest challenges at UNHCR is raising awareness about sexual and gender-based violence.

“It’s hard because people will consider that these are western principles, and you are violating their values and their customs and their culture.”

As a result, there are a lot of barriers in place to prevent us from speaking to women, to understand their needs and their concerns.

One of the most important skills I learned during my time in the UK that helped me overcome this challenge was “…to challenge my beliefs and my perceptions about foreign people and different communities, [to learn how] to put myself in their shoes and try to understand, to actively listening… and not to defend all the time, but to empathise with people.”

I realised that to enact positive social change, we needed to empathise with the men and boys, to get them on our side too. We now focus on sharing the reasons why providing safe spaces for women and girls is also beneficial to men, namely that it ensures an inclusive and balanced environment for everyone. We try to engage men in our proposed solutions by talking to them and ensuring that we’re inclusive in our approach.

During my Chevening year, I also finessed my soft skills – collaboration, relationship building, networking skills – through meeting so many different people from different backgrounds. My work at UNHCR requires me to build trust with partner organisations so that we can work together to support victims of gender-based violence. Soft skills are critical in creating these professional relationships.

Finally, it was also useful to further develop my English-language speaking skills, to take these skills back home to pass them on to the children living in refugee communities.

  1. Share what excites you most about your course. Which modules are you most interested in?

One of my favourite modules while studying Development and Emergency practice at Oxford Brookes University was about providing housing and shelter for people particularly vulnerable to climate change induced natural disasters.

“I remember in the course that I built a shelter to accommodate the needs of people who were fleeing from natural disasters. It got me thinking, I wonder if we could use these same practices for people who are fleeing from conflict zones.”

I shared my presentation with my colleagues at UNHCR when I returned home. It was one of my proudest moments.

  1. Think about how you’d leverage the Chevening network to help you achieve your career goals

I was able to build lasting relationships with people from different countries around the world who are also fighting for gender equality and to eradicate sexual and gender-based violence. It was an invaluable learning experience to understand how people from other parts of the world promote these fundamental human rights in their own countries.

I’ve tried to get into the habit of contacting people I met during my Chevening year every couple of weeks. I sometimes share documents I’m working on with my friend who is based in Latin America and we call each other to discuss how climate change impacts humanitarian intervention and what we’d like to see done about it.

Chevening gave me a lot of opportunities, professional and personal, to reflect on my experiences and my work, and to reflect on my own personal story and experience as a refugee. I discovered through my Chevening experience and interactions in the UK that I sometimes forget about my personal story, which is a very important part of the story that I should be sharing.”

“I believe it’s very important in life to get to know other people, to discover new cultures, and to keep asking yourself questions to test your passion, your motivation and your beliefs.”

Chevening helped reaffirm my belief that I have a commitment to share my story about being a refugee and to shift other people’s perspectives about migrant communities through my work and through my personal story. I use all my newly acquired skills and the relationships I’ve maintained to try to create positive social change.

“I want to be a role model for women in refugee communities. I believe in the power of education; I believe that education can change lives, so when I get calls from people saying they’ve been inspired [to study] because of me, I feel particularly proud.”

  1. And finally, if you’re successful in being awarded a Chevening Scholarship or Fellowship, make sure you give yourself time and space to reflect and adapt your perspectives.

I had a lot of positive perceptions about the UK before I arrived, most of which were met, but I was surprised to hear reports of gender-based violence during the Covid-19 pandemic.

It was reflecting on this that enhanced my understanding of how to support women from all over the world to report and escape domestic abuse. I learned about the efficacy of online tools in reporting gender-based violence without alerting the perpetrator. I also furthered my understanding of how to provide effective emotional support to victims of domestic abuse, particularly to people who may come from very different circumstances and backgrounds to me.

When I returned home, I used this knowledge to set up a support system for refugee communities I work with to use online services and dedicated phone hotlines to safely report cases of gender-based violence.

“I am so grateful for Chevening, not only as a scholar, but as refugee. Speaking about my experience, achieving this scholarship, travelling to the UK, acquiring new skills, and coming back to benefit the community and the refugee communities I work with; it’s impact is so far-reaching.”



Find out more about the Chevening community’s impact in local communities before applying when applications open this summer.

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