The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

GoFundMe campaign for Palestinian student’s family raises $30,000 in four days

Within hours of the start of a social media campaign, Washington and Lee community members raised over $18,000 for a family of Palestinian refugees
The GoFundMe campaign for the family of Mohammed Mourtaja, ’25, reached its $30,000 in a matter of days. Photo courtesy of Mourtaja’s GoFundMe

The family of Mohammed Mourtaja, ’25, now has over $30,000 to flee the Palestinian city of Rafah. 

The Washington and Lee community gave hundreds of small-dollar donations to a GoFundMe campaign at a time when one of the university’s few current Palestinian students needs it most. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israeli forces will invade Rafah on Sunday, according to The New York Times. The city has served as a “last refuge for hundreds of thousands of Gazan families forced from their homes,” the Times reported.

Rafah is Mourtaja’s parents’ and grandparents’ fourth shelter, Mourtaja wrote in a note on the GoFundMe page. He described his family’s journey, first from an aunt’s house to a friend’s house that was later destroyed, then to a refugee camp where they barely survived a nearby shelling.

“The shrapnel of the bombing entered the room where they stayed, but thankfully, it did not strike any of them,” Mourtaja wrote.

Mourtaja’s parents will use the $30,000 the Washington and Lee community raised to participate in an Egyptian refugee program. For $6,000 per family member, Mourtaja’s family can cross the border from Gaza and live in Egypt. The remaining money will support the family’s life in Egypt.

Mourtaja launched the GoFundMe for his parents with the help of Ethan Casto, ’24. GoFundMe has banking requirements that made it difficult for Mourtaja, an international student, to launch the campaign himself, Casto said.

“It’s really inspiring, and I know Mohammed is also extremely grateful,” Casto said on Thursday. “To be only $5,000 shy of the goal in less than 48 hours is really unexpected. I thought it was going to be really hard to get the word out.”

Mourtaja posted an update once the campaign reached its $30,000 goal on Saturday.

“We thank you for caring and choosing to be human above everything else,” Mourtaja wrote.

The campaign is no longer accepting new donations. 599 members of the Washington and Lee community donated. Many of those donations are between $20 and $50. Larger donations came from parents and professors, Casto said.

Casto said the GoFundMe came together in less than 24 hours.

Mourtaja “called me at maybe 3 in the afternoon on Tuesday and said, ‘Hey, this is my idea,’” Casto said. That night, the campaign was up and running.

From there, Casto and other friends of Mourtaja, like Charlie Mlcek, ’25, started spreading the word in the Pi Kappa Alpha group chat and other campus forums. Other fraternity members sent the GoFundMe link to their parents. Soon after, the campaign was getting posted on students’ Instagram stories. The total donation amount passed $18,000 Wednesday night.

“I think this shows not only the strength of the W&L community, but also the strength of the community around Mohammed and all the people who love and support him,” Mlcek said. 

Cat Hudson, ’24, posted Mourtaja’s entire message and a link to his GoFundMe Wednesday night. They said it’s rare to have an opportunity to make a direct impact in a conflict they have otherwise felt helpless about.

“I’ve contacted my representatives and sent letters, but having a GoFundMe where you can directly send money to someone who needs help” is different, Hudson said. “The story is also just really touching. It’s a W&L student and their family.”

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