Making a Difference for Those Displaced by War

Making a Difference

After an extraordinary experience volunteering in Syrian refugee camps, Chamberlain BSN student Raya Cupler has found a calling – "to make the world a better place for refugees."

Growing up in Saudi Arabia, the daughter of a Lebanese molecular biologist and an American neurologist, Raya Cupler was keenly aware of the human cost of conflict.

“My mom grew up during the Lebanese civil war, and she had to leave her home and move to France,” she said. “When I was growing up in Saudi Arabia, my family and I had to evacuate. It’s given me an interesting perspective on refugees because I know that no one really wants to leave their country.”

Now a pre-licensure nursing student at Chamberlain University's College of Nursing Columbus campus, Raya is striving to make a difference for people who have been traumatized and displaced by war.

volunteeringLast winter, during a session when all of her Chamberlain courses were online, Raya volunteered for two and a half months in Syrian refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon, working with a number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). As an aspiring nurse, she found the experience invaluable.

“It was almost like clinical rotations. I did primary care, I did women’s health, I was on a surgical team for two weeks. As a nursing student, I learned a lot of skills that are incredible, like triaging and prioritization. It’s improved my critical thinking and taught me how to think outside the box because you only have limited resources over there,” she said.

“I got to learn a lot about war, trauma and refugees, and the kind of things that go on in refugee camps.” A lot of what she witnessed was heart-breaking. The camps she worked in were across the border into Lebanon or Jordan but within walking distance of the Syrian cities that were being bombed or hit by chemical attacks.

“I was nowhere near fighting, but I could hear it and see it.”

Raya also explained that within the camps, she cared for a surprising number of child brides – teen or pre-teen girls who were married off for financial or safety reasons but aren’t mature enough, physically or psychologically, for everything that marriage implies.

volunteeringRaya’s fluency in Arabic and French and familiarity with Arab culture helped her establish a connection with women and girls.

“It definitely helped them open up to me about what’s going on in their households or tents, but it was interesting because Arab culture in general is very patriarchal and I’m a woman. With the rest of the community I had to really identify myself as a Westerner so they would take me as an authority figure.”

In recognition of her work with refugees, Raya was named one of Johnson & Johnson’s® Global Young Leaders in 2016 – an honor that placed her among a select group of young activists from around the world.

She currently volunteers with survivors of sexual assault in the Columbus area and is on track to graduate from Chamberlain with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing in December 2018. Raya hopes to pursue a career in public health, perhaps helping to create health systems for refugees.

And while she has much to give, Raya is resolute in her belief that the refugees she’s met have also impacted her life.

“They gave me back so much more than I could ever have given them,” she said.

“I think the best thing for me was seeing the resilience of humanity. It’s difficult at times to remember that, living somewhere like in the United States, where we’re so privileged with safety and abundance of food. We might have crime within the country, but we as individuals don’t feel afraid every day. To know that, we as humans, have the ability to survive that fear – I thought that was incredible.”


Based on her experience with Syrian refugees, Chamberlain student Raya Cupler shared her advice for other healthcare professionals who aspire to work with people impacted by war.

start by working locallyStart by working locally

“To a certain extent, trauma is trauma,” said Raya. “If you’re interested in working with war refugees, start by volunteering with other kinds of survivors in your community – like survivors of sexual assault – so you can see if it’s something you’re actually interested in. It can be very taxing, so you have to be very self-aware all the time of what you’re able to handle.”

volunteer internationallyVolunteer in a stable, international setting

“Take advantage of things like the Global Health Education Program that Chamberlain has – it gives you an idea of what healthcare in a third world country looks like before you add variables such as war or genocide.”

non-governmental organizationWork with a non-governmental organization (NGO)

“Definitely work with an organization and finalize all of your details from the United States. You are going to an active conflict. You want to be with an organization that has some kind of safety protocols and can tell you where it is safe to be and where it’s not safe to be.”

Raya Cupler

In 2016, Raya was named
one of Johnson & Johnson’s®
Global Young Leaders

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