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Family raising money for former exchange student in Gaza


By Kirsten Mitchell

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    WHITE BEAR LAKE, Minnesota (WCCO) — It was 10 months filled with new experiences and memories for Jehad AlGhandour, Laurie and Allen Wenker’s exchange student from Gaza.

“He saw Mount Rushmore. We took him to the Badlands, New York City, Colorado, Connecticut for my daughter’s graduation,” Laurie Wenker said.

While here, Jehad discovered Minnesota and beyond. He spent his junior year at White Bear Lake Area High School, where he joined the swim team and participated in other sports and activities.

“He just took every opportunity to do anything, he was remarkable that way,” Allen Wenker said.

The couple, who have two grown children, said Jehad easily became part of their family and remains part of it today. He returned home to his family in Gaza in June 2023. Once the war started, everything changed for him and his family. He lost his grandfather and uncle in the war, and his home and school were bombed too.

“Everything gone. There’s literally nothing there for them anymore,” Laurie Wenker said.

The Wenkers try to communicate with Jehad and his family daily but said the internet and electricity are inconsistent.

“He is incredibly resilient, but you can feel their stress,” she said.

The Wenkers started a GoFundMe, called “Help the AlGhandour Family in Gaza” where they have raised nearly $20,000. The family is waiting to cross into Egypt. Jehad then hopes to come back to the United States for college.

“He’s just this kid who wants to be a doctor. It’s horrific to think that could all get crushed in some geopolitical crossfire in which there’s people caught in the middle of it,” Allen Wenker said.

Jehad came to the U.S. as an exchange student through the Kennedy-Lugar youth exchange and study scholarship. It’s a highly selective program funded by the U.S. State Department after the 9/11 terrorist attack to promote better cultural understanding between the U.S. and predominantly Muslim countries.

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