Aiia Maasarwe: Medical grant continues on behalf of murdered Melbourne student

Four years ago, Australians joined in mourning the loss of a 21-year-old woman who was fatally assaulted while on the phone with her sister on her way home from a comedy club.
Aiia Maasarwe, a Palestinian-Israeli student at La Trobe University, was getting off a Melbourne tram in Bundoora when she was raped and murdered.
Just moments earlier she had called one of her sisters, Ruba, who was in Israel, as she often did when going home, because it made her feel safer.

Her body was found hours later, on the morning of January 16, 2019, by a passer-by on her way to work.

In response to her death and following other killings and violent attacks, including that of The year before, women across Australia expressed anger at the lack of safety on the roads.
La Trobe University held a vigil for students to remember Ms Maasarwe and crowds rallied on the steps of Victorian Parliament to end gender-based violence against women and children.
Prime Minister Daniel Andrews shared his heartache and said Ms Maasarwe should have been safe in Victoria.
Codey Herrmann, 21, pleaded guilty to her rape and murder and was sentenced nine months after her death to 36 years in prison with a minimum of 30 years.

But after the sentencing, Ms Maasarwe’s father Saeed, who traveled to Melbourne for the hearing from Israel, said “revenge” was not at the heart of the family.

Four years later, the family supports a special scholarship set up in Ms. Maasarwe’s name to enable Palestinian doctors to be trained in Israeli hospitals.
“That’s what she dreamed of,” Saeed Masarwe told SBS News of his daughter, who studied international relations.
“She was always happy and wanted to help people…she wanted to make the world more peaceful[ful] and more useful, more communication between the different nationalities or different mentalities.”

“That’s why she’s coming to China, she’s going to Australia, she’s going to many countries around the world.”

A man with his arm around a woman

Aiia Maasarwe’s family, including sister Noor and father Saeed, carry on her legacy. Source: AAP

The Aiia Maasarwe Memorial Medical Fellowship Program (AMMMFP) was launched in 2019 but was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Run by Melbourne-based non-governmental organization Project Rozana, it’s now relaunched.

The project’s founder, Ron Finkel, says his mission is to “build better understanding between Israelis and Palestinians through health, while building Palestinian health capacity.”

“It’s an empowering program, it allows Palestinian hospitals to have their staff trained,” he said.

Two fellows will work in Tel Aviv hospitals to further develop their professional skills. dr Ruba Rizik is trained in pediatric critical care and Dr. Ahmad Shaheen plans to learn more about pediatric ophthalmology.
dr Rizik said Project Rozana helped her learn the Hebrew language while attending the program.
She said her job is hard work, but she remains passionate about it.

“You have to be awake 24 hours a day, sometimes you have to make decisions quickly because a decision can affect your patient’s life, but once I started working in the ICU it was a very nice place to work.”

dr Shaheen said he wants to help people and learn more in his field.
“I’m going to get as much knowledge and skills as I can out of the hospital,” he said.

“I would be more eager to acquire some surgical skills that are rare in this field like pediatric ophthalmology.”

A young woman poses with a dog for a selfie.

Four years have passed since the death of Aiia Maasarwe in Melbourne. Source: Instagram

Ronit Zimmer, executive director of Project Rozana, said that in addition to training in Israeli hospitals, where skills gaps exist, “we also want to contribute to an independent and resilient Palestinian healthcare system.”

Mr Masarwa said his daughter was inspired by the cause.
“Project Rozana shows that Israelis and Palestinians can live and work together in harmony, and that was also something that was important to Aiia.”
If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual assault, call 1800RESPECT at 1800.737.732 or visit us . In an emergency, call 000.
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