I was born and raised in Syria; my nationality is a big part of my identity. With the start of the war in Syria, I wanted to have my feet on the ground back home and help in whatever way I could. It reminded me of my mother, who would give away our clothes, cook for and feed whoever needed it, and even let people sleep in our home. Due to our circumstances, my family and I had to help in whatever way we could in our new home in Michigan.”
Dr. Rouba Ali-Fehmi was born in Damascus, Syria as the middle child of 6 siblings. She’s currently a professor and Vice Chair in the Department of Pathology at Wayne State University, School of Medicine (WSUSOM). She is also the Director of the Surgical Pathology Fellowship at WSU. Rouba has received multiple honors such as the Wayne State University College Teaching Award for Pathology and Obstetrics and Gynecology 2016 and the Recognition Award for Significant Contributions to the GYN/Oncology Fellows Teaching. She has served as the president of Michigan Society of Pathologists from 2016 to 2018. She has also been a member of the National Arab American Medical Association (NAAMA) for 15 years and served as the National NAAMA president from 2018 to 2020. Currently, Rouba is the Chair of National NAAMA NextGen and serves as a member of the Board of Directors for UNICEF U.S. Mid-West.
Rouba came to this country at a young age for better opportunities. She was the valedictorian of her high school class in Damascus and the only student who went to medical school. After finishing medical school, Rouba started her medical journey by spending several years in Europe before coming to the United States. She made her way to Cleveland where she began her residency in Pathology at Case Western University. It was around this time she met her husband, Hassan Fehmi. She later moved to Detroit and began her career at WSU to become a professor of pathology. Rouba specializes in Breast and GYN Oncology pathology. She has had numerous National Institute of Health (NIH) research grants and more than 120 peer reviewed publications. She is well known nationally and internationally in her field and has given numerous lectures throughout the world.
The Syrian War has played a pivotal role in Rouba’s philanthropy. “What’s going on in our land breaks my heart,” she says. “Children, just as you and I were and just like my kids are now, who took for granted the same things we take for granted today and had their whole lives ahead of them, all of this robbed by the injustice of war.” She said this is why she started her philanthropic work — to help the children in Syria. What began as her twin sons, Omar and Ziad, wanting to help Syrian children, turned into a family effort, resulting in Piano Keys for Syrian Kids — a piano concert fundraiser. “We chose UNICEF [as our grant recipient] because they are apolitical and have boots on the ground. NAAMA NextGen has sponsored all the Keys for Kids event, and the Center for Arab American Philanthropy (CAAP) has provided amazing support in regard to engaging local community and assisting with logistics,” Rouba says.
The first event, held in 2016, yielded around $10,000 and the initiative has only grown from there. “People were so generous,” Rouba says, “It’s not only about the money, it’s about the awareness and impact we generated from this event. Every student and every family talked about it.” At least $100,000 has been generated for UNICEF since the fund was established. Rouba says any giving is great. “Even a dollar can make a life changing impact,” she says. “Understand why you’re passionate about a cause. Because life is tough and sometimes you will get busy with work, or family, or school, or whatever it might be, and your cause might not seem worth it or a priority. When you hit these moments, think back to why you started; if your reason is compelling enough you will continue onwards. This passion will push you to figure out how to put together better events and efforts.”
Rouba also added that collaboration is key to having a successful project, among individual or multiple societies, particularly when they have a similar vision and mission. She’s collaborated with multiple organizations for multiple projects such as NAAMA, American Syrian Arab Cultural Association (ASACA), American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA), CAAP, UNICEF and others.
Rouba believes in the impact of mobilizing the youth in our society. She started NAAMA NextGen two years ago — a club that provides mentorship programs and seminars for students. Now NextGen is present at every major university in Michigan and many other universities throughout the country. NAAMA NextGen has multiple philanthropic initiatives, too, raising money and awareness for causes.
Finally, Rouba said she has to thank her husband, Hassan, for all of his support and ideas throughout her career. “He is the one who initiated all of this wonderful teamwork that we did as a family.” Dr. Hassan Fehmi is a well known nephrologist and is a very active leader of NAAMA as well. Together, both Rouba and Hassan have provided superb teamwork.