George Mason University student Malek Salhab grew up in Palestine and understands better than most what people need in his homeland and in other places under similar duress.
That’s what spurred Salhab, an Honors College student and junior neuroscience major and computational and data sciences minor, to co-found the Mason chapter of United2Heal, a nonprofit humanitarian aid organization that collects surplus medical supplies and sends them to areas in need around the world. The organization, which was founded at the University of Michigan, believes that a lack of medical supplies should never be a barrier to proper health care.
Fadia Abutaleb helped Salhab kick-start the Mason chapter of the organization in Fall 2017 as a co-founder. She was moved by the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of her two older sisters, both of whom had worked with the United2Heal chapter at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Salhab saw it as an opportunity to help further unite the Northern Virginia community by showing how people of diverse religions, races and backgrounds can work together in a friendly environment with the shared goal of serving others through passion and diligence.
“I wanted to take advantage of what Mason provided,” said Salhab, the organization’s president. “I knew that if I didn’t get the scholarship that Mason gave me, I wouldn’t have been able to attend college. So I wanted to give back to the community that gave me an opportunity to pursue my goals.”
The Mason chapter of United2Heal officially got underway in Spring 2018 and now lists more than 200 members, many of whom have ties well beyond the Middle East.
“It’s been incredibly gratifying,” said Abutaleb, a junior business management major whose family hails from Egypt. “This is what I wanted to do with my life—to help people in need.”
Relying on fundraisers to cover shipping expenses all over the globe, the group collects medical supplies and stores them in a warehouse as they await delivery. The organization has already helped deliver surplus medical supplies to Syria, China, Palestine, Chile and Haiti.
“Not only is it good for the countries that we’re sending aid to, but it is also good for the hospitals themselves, who now don’t have to spend a lot of money disposing of the excess supplies,” Salhab said. “If they were to dispose them, the supplies go to a landfill, so it’s kind of a win-win situation for the hospitals and the environment.”
Abutaleb said that it’s gratifying that their work makes a difference in people’s lives. “You can actually see the effects your work has on people across the globe that you wouldn’t even meet.”
Salhab and Abutaleb hope to sustain the enthusiasm they’ve seen from their chapter members, while expanding outreach to include as many members of the Mason community as possible.
“I’m thrilled with how things are going,” Salhab said. “This is different from being happy. We’re being the change we want to see, and I feel more in touch with myself as a result of helping people. It’s a different feeling; it’s more so contentment than happiness.”