A hospital stay with her poorly baby inspired Rawa Abu Lawi to achieve a PhD – to improve the experiences of other children and their parents.
While waiting for a diagnosis for her son Yanal’s condition, Rawa spent time in numerous hospitals in her home country of Palestine, seeing first-hand where she felt changes could be made.
Now Rawa has graduated from Lancaster University with a PhD entitled Healing by Design: Interior architecture and interior design of public spaces for children’s hospitals.
She said: “In 2004, I gave birth to a child who suffered from an illness that was impossible to diagnose until he was one year old.
“Diagnosing the problem required visits to several hospitals in Palestine. He had to be hospitalised for several days, which allowed me to see first-hand the poor conditions of primary care, especially for children.
“For example, there was no place for a parent or primary carer to sleep; only a small chair beside the bed, and the room was shared with eight other children, along with their mothers and other visitors.
“In addition, there were no public spaces set aside for children to play and no consideration of the aesthetics of the environment that might help children forget their illness. In other words, the environment was not conducive to supportive healing.
“As an architect and interior designer, these images and memories stimulated me to ask: how can we provide a supportive environment for all age ranges of children in hospitals, especially in the context of Palestine?”
Rawa, who lectures at An-Najah National University in Palestine, undertook her PhD to progress her career but faced obstacles along the way. She suffered visa set-backs and had to leave her family at home to undertake her studies in Lancaster.
She said: “What helped me to overcome my challenges, particularly being away form family, was my friends at Lancaster University, the great porters and the accommodation team in Graduate College, the place I lived in for four-and-a-half years.
“Their encouragement and support means a lot to me and can't be forgotten.”
Rawa also thanked her supervisors, Professor Stuart Walker and Dr Chris Boyko, for their support, and said conferences at the University helped her to share her work.
She said: “They helped me to disseminate my work, and in 2016 I was awarded the prize for the best 15-minute presentation.”
Rawa is now hoping to apply her work to hospitals in Palestine, to improve children’s wards and to test her research findings.
She said: “Life is full of challenges, but without working hard, believing in yourself and having adventures, success will not be achieved and history will not be created.”