Dr. Curt Rhodes
January 08, 2024
Founder's Series: Our Founder and Chief Vision Officer, Dr. Curt Rhodes, on what it means to serve the last.

Stories are serious bits of human-being stuff. The stories we believe tell us who we are and what we should do.  

I once believed a story that could have cost me my life.

In the 1950s, when Superman wore his underwear outside his tights, I was glued to the TV every afternoon to see Clark Kent disappear and reappear with that underwear and a red cape and leap from a tall building with a whoosh – always landing on his feet with that marvelous swirly cape.

I believed that story. So, one afternoon, I pinned a red bath towel around my neck and leaped head-first from grandma’s second story back porch, making the whoosh sound – straight into a pile of jagged rocks. I regained consciousness later in my grandma’s bed, with her, mom and a couple of aunties staring down at me, exhaling.

From that day, I became a believer in gravity, and me with no superpower to overcome it. I learned that I must change my stories as my grasp of reality grows, so that any inadequate story does not cost me, or others, our lives.

There is an inadequate story going on about Gaza that we must change. This story costs thousands of lives, in real time, today. This story says all Gazans are terrorists, so their deaths are “acceptable.”

Gaza is kinda of the same size as Detroit. Both cover about 139 square miles. And there are computer geeks in both places. And schools. And coffee shops. Streets and tall apartment blocks.

Gaza is also kinda not like Detroit. Gaza is packed with 2.3 million residents: Detroit, “only” 620 thousand.  Young persons make up 50% of all Gazans (1.15 million, 18 or younger). In the States, our youths make up 22% of us.

22 thousand Gazans have died since October 2023: half of them women and children. 58 thousand Gazans have been wounded (equal to the entire population of Leesburg, VA). Seventy percent of all homes have been destroyed. Two million Gazans, 90% of the population, are living in some place not their home – without food, water, medical care.

These statistics exist because of belief in a single story – that all Gazans are terrorists. Seriously?  What about the 150 babies born every day, all the pregnant and nursing mothers, grannies, school-age kids, girls on Facebook in coffee shops, guys in jeans and cool T’s on every street corner?

Gotta change that story. The cost is too high for us and for them to keep telling and believing that story.

Imagine what is happening in Gaza just miles from my front door in Amman, Jordan. 

The World Food Program defines food insecurity in 5 levels. Level 1 is ‘fine.” Level 5 is “catastrophic.” In all the world, 705 thousand people are at level #5 – catastrophic hunger, and 575 thousand of those are in Gaza.  Imagine again, 4 out of 5 people facing starvation in the world (80%) are in Gaza.

Gaza City center is 180 miles by car from my doorstep in Amman. At 40 mph, it will take you only 5 hours to make the trip (if there were no border crossings, check points, etc.)  They are only a short drive from grocery stores in Israel. And they are starving.

The story that all Gaza Palestinians are terrorists is false. Not true. To believe it is to make more people die. Tens of thousands of people.

How could we possibly believe that this mass killing is a solution? Only if we believe violence can bring peace. Only If we believe that killing people can kill ideas.

I do not believe.

I’ve lived in the Middle East for 41 of the 75 years since the founding of Israel in 1948 – in Beirut, Damascus, Cairo and Amman – all of them within a few hours car-drive of Jerusalem. Forty years ago in the summer of 1982, I witnessed months of bombing of civilians in West Beirut. Violence that was gonna bring peace.

One afternoon, the bombing suddenly stopped. Just. Stopped. Apparently Mr. Reagan and Mr. Began had a phone call. A president and a prime minister decided, “enough.” Nothing was solved. Nothing was settled. Just, enough. Palestinian civilians were allowed to go “home” to the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps. And then, surrounded without escape within the camp boundaries, they were massacred.

Now in Gaza, repeat. Repeat. Again, repeat. Bombings and killings of civilians who cannot escape. Violence begets violence. Not peace. Not ever. Not in 1982. Not in 2024. Never.

What is the new story we must tell ourselves?

Palestinians in Gaza are us. Newly-marrieds, moms and dads, toddlers, teens in T’s, grannies, aunties, uncles, gramps – who must be spared from indiscriminant death from bombs, shelling, gunfire – now, right away, immediately. It apparently only takes a single phone call for the “right” guys to say, “enough.” I saw it happen once. I know it can happen again. It must happen.

We have to stop the killing, and feed the starving. Now.

I am totally in for the new story. Red capes (bathtowels, whatever) don’t cut it. Compassion does. Let’s be in it for compassion. Together.


P.S. We are proud to be involved in the Gaza emergency response. Our efforts include food aid in order to combat the hunger in Gaza.

Curt pic1
Founder & Chief Vision Officer

Dr. Curt Rhodes

Curt Rhodes has spent close to 40 years working with, and on behalf of, marginalized communities and young people across the Middle East.

As the recipient of the 2014 Dr. Jean Mayer Global Citizenship Award, Dr. Rhodes was recognized by Tufts University for his demonstrated compassion and tenacity in creating a highly effective and determined organization dedicated to the survival and nurturing of the most vulnerable and disenfranchised.

In recognition of his work with marginalized youth in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and in the region, Dr. Rhodes was awarded 2011 Social Entrepreneur of the Year for the Middle East and North Africa by the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship.

Dr. Rhodes began his career in the Middle East in the early 1980s, as Assistant Dean in the School of Public Health at the American University of Beirut. During the 1982 invasion of west Beirut, he volunteered in a community-based clinic alongside students and friends, doing around-the-clock triage for wounded and ill civilians. That was when the seed idea for Questscope began to take shape. Living and working with people in great suffering compelled him to find a way that he and others in the Middle East could assist the most vulnerable: participating with the voiceless ones in invisible communities.

In 1988, Questscope was founded with the goal of putting the last, first. From the beginning, Questscope worked closely with local communities, identifying their aspirations and together addressing their greatest needs.