Dr. Curt Rhodes
September 27, 2022
Founder's Series: Our Founder and Chief Vision Officer, Dr. Curt Rhodes, on what it means to serve the last.

Salam’s hidden beauty flows from her heart through her paint brush onto whole-wall murals bursting with color in the Zaatari refugee camp. Her giftedness brings delight and joy to lots of her friends.

How did this come about for a 13-year-old refugee girl whose family fled the war in Syria, leaving their home and everything behind, when she was only four?

For the next 9 years after becoming a refugee, Salam was imprisoned inside herself – surrounded by those terrible prison wardens of doubt and fear of not being accepted and loved. She was aching for friendships with other girls her age – but felt that she had nothing to offer.

One day as she was waiting for her sister to finish an activity in the camp, she caught the eye of Miss Noor, a Syrian volunteer leader in the Questscope peer-to-peer mentoring program. “Join us,” she insisted. So, she did. The following discussions about self-confidence and self-acceptance somehow began to touch that hidden beauty in Salam’s heart.

Miss Noor encouraged her family to encourage Salam to join more activities for young girls. She discovered that Salam had incredible talents in communication – creative writing and art.  The volunteer responsible for the Questscope library in the camp also visited her family to describe Salam’s talent and ask for their support in her development.

Salam was selected to design and draw a promotional brochure for a camp concert. “Imagine, now I am writing and drawing things out of my deepest feelings. And it brings joy to girls like me, once shy and full of fear, to have fun and grow together."

Salam’s hand needed a paint brush. And her heart needed someone like Miss Noor with the skill to draw out of her heart what her hand wanted to create.  

There’s actually lots of hidden beauty in Salam’s story. Miss Noor’s “good eye” to see a girl as a participant in her life, not just an observer of others from the outside. The librarian who uses books and ideas to spur creativity in others. The girls in the camp who welcomed Salam into their circles of friendship. And the power of the paint brush – creating art that brings into external visibility the internal treasures that wait to be uncovered.

This is what Questscope does. We construct creative space that encourages young girls and boys to uncover their hidden aspirations and abilities. We organize leadership space for refugee leaders to arise as guides for those young girls and boys to get them past those terrible wardens of self-doubt and fear.

This is what Questscope means when we say that a refugee is a resource to cultivate and not a problem to be solved. This is our intention though our commitment to Put the Last, First.

It’s a big intention. But we have a big circle of friends who help us make this possible. “Join us,” like Miss Noor insisted. Who knows what more we can uncover together?!

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.