Alumni Spotlight: Abeer Etefa PhD ’05

PSU alumna part of Nobel Peace Prize 2020 winning team at UN World Food Programme

Abeer Etefa header image
Alumna Abeer Etefa with the World Food Programme in Sudan.

When the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize went to the United Nations (UN) World Food Programme (WFP), Abeer Etefa PhD '05 and her colleagues felt honored and humbled by the acknowledgment of their work.

“I’m one of the 20,000 WFP staff laureates who share this glorious moment,” says Etefa, who serves as Chief Spokesperson and Communications Officer in WFP’s Middle East and North Africa region.

WFP is the world’s largest humanitarian organization, using food assistance to build a pathway to peace, stability and prosperity. Etefa brings recognition and resources to help those suffering in the 13 countries that she covers including Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen. She’s been on the front lines of political revolutions, civil wars, famine, refugees camps and border crossings.

“This award puts the struggle of the 690 million people in the world who go to bed hungry at the center of the world’s attention, which is critically important during this difficult time of COVID,” Etefa asserts.

Combination of Talents

Based in Cairo, Egypt, Etefa works in the city where she grew up. She obtained her master’s degree in broadcast journalism, held an internship with ABC news during the Gulf War, and worked as a journalist. After moving to Portland, Etefa expected to pursue a PhD in communications. A chance meeting with Nohad Toulan, the founding Dean of PSU’s College of Urban and Public Affairs, changed her course.

“Toulan was a pioneer in the field of Urban Planning,” Etefa recalls. “He encouraged me to expand my knowledge with a multidiscipline focus, then put my communications expertise into community service.”

Etefa also served as a graduate assistant in PSU’s Office of International Affairs where she learned intercultural competence. “Combined with my interdisciplinary studies, I gained the tools I needed to work for the UN and contribute to WFP’s mission.”

Etefa’s first post-doctoral job was with the UN Refugee Agency the height of the Iraqi refugee crisis. “Working in countries hosting refugees like Syria and Jordan was a crash course in how the Iraq war destabilized the whole region,” she says. “But on my first week on the job, I realized it was the perfect fit for me.”

Inspired by Resilience

Etefa moved to the WFP in 2009, where she captures personal stories of hunger and relays them to the world through broadcast interviews. She also takes journalists into the field.

Field work is Etefa’s favorite part of the job.

“Although witnessing hunger and displacement is heartbreaking, there are also many moments of humor and friendship,” she says. “These people are dignified, and they’re trying so hard to keep their families and communities together. Their grace and resilience are inspiring.”

As one of the main drivers of war and conflict, hunger forces people to abandon their homes, land and jobs.

“Without WFP’s support, we’ll continue to see conflict and hunger,” Etefa notes. “I hope PSU graduates apply to work for WFP, consider contributing, or lending their voice to let the world know that 690 million people go hungry. It’s truly a privilege to have a career like this.”

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