Fri 1 Oct 21
Inspirational student and journalist, Rima Cherri, who continued her postgraduate studies in Refugee Care despite receiving advanced treatment for breast cancer will be remembered this weekend with the University flag flying at half-mast.
Rima was a video producer at UNHCR – the United Nations Refugee Agency - and previously a news producer at Reuters Television.
Her PhD research was focused on refugee children and how they felt about the outside world. She believed we needed to do more to support vulnerable children in our society.
Her family is now working to launch the NGO Rima wanted to establish to help and empower children on the margins and also aiming to fulfil her request to ensure the research work she started is completed.
As Rima said: “Children don’t know lies, or even wars. They don’t choose poverty, nor to sleep hungry and walk bare feet. They don’t choose to work while others go to school. If they are to choose, they would probably choose to be able to be children, to just play, dream and learn.”
We spoke to Rima’s family about her life and how they want to honour her memory.
What kind of character was Rima?
“Rima had a kind and affable personality. She loved to listen to people’s stories, and speak little of herself. She was attached to her family and close friends, who were her anchor as she embarked on her special journey. She found her passion in helping others, particularly refugees in camps."
Could you tell us about her interests outside her studies?
“Rima was born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon, in a big and warm family. She has six siblings, four brothers and two sisters.
“Rima had various interests from listening to classic and alternative music, to reading beautiful novels and exploring spiritual readings and philosophy. She loved ballet dance and always wished she was a ballerina! She watched a live ballet show few weeks before her passing and it was an enriching experience for her. She loved food and enjoyed her favourite meals until the very last days. She lived mindfully, with gratitude for the simple things in life even before counting the big ones.”
What inspired her to come to Essex to study?
“Rima was looking to do her research on how refugee children born and raised in camps imagine the outside world. For this, she did not want to be anywhere but in a place dedicated to refugees, and with scholars whose research is organically connected to their cause. She found Professor Renos Papadopolous and the Centre for Trauma, Asylum, and Refugees to be the perfect match. Professor Papadopolous’s work inspired Rima and drove her to come to Essex.
“Rima was intellectually stimulated by, and excited about, her studies until her last moment. It was a source of joy to a woman driven by the pursuit of knowledge throughout her life. Recalling her discussions with her peers and tutors brought a smile to her face and zeal to her voice. She also appreciated the considerate support she received from the department when her treatment impeded her academic efforts.”
How did her illness impact on her studies at Essex?
“Rima was getting advanced treatment throughout her studies. She managed to write her essays and attend classes while getting treated for metastatic triple negative breast cancer. This made her appreciate her studies and resort to her books and essays with greater perseverance. A week before her passing one of her main concerns was actually the two essays she still needs to submit – a good example of how committed and in love she was with her PhD work."
The family want to find ways to actively commemorate Rima – can you tell us more about these plans?
“Rima asked for her nascent NGO, ‘U Turn Lives’ (UTL), to be launched, developed and sustained. In her own words Rima described UTL’s mission as follows:
‘’The role of vulnerable children in societies is often undermined. Even though they are the future, they often struggle with their present and a past they had no control over, leaving them unable to make a positive change even if they have the skills and ambitions to make a real impact in their lives and the wider community. Children don’t know lies, or even wars. They don’t choose poverty, nor to sleep hungry and walk bare feet. They don’t choose to work while others go to school. If they are to choose, they would probably choose to be able to be children, to just play, dream and learn.
“Here comes the core of our mission, to transform their experience beyond barriers and give them a new lease of life, to lift them up from the edge of existence and help them make a U-Turn and blossom.’’
“UTL is in the process of launching in October through a team of experts and a lot of energy to make a difference in this world, for Rima and for a better world to these children.
“If anyone would like to stay tuned into the launching of UTL and all its updates, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
“She also asked for her doctoral research question to be answered, and thus the family will be working to secure the funds for a PhD scholarship on the same topic.”
‘Cancer is not a battle and I am not a warrior’
“Rima found meaning in her journey. She also found her own terms to define it. She wrote about cancer on the Medium blog
“We hope that her words inspire and empower others, as much as it continues to empower and inspire her family and friends.”
In that article Rima wrote: “I hope my experience can encourage others to re-evaluate all what they take for granted in their own lives. List some, if not all. Try to be more aware, love and embrace the simplest things. Look around you with depth, and with joy. Life is more, and wider.”