In the Family

Establishing the Arab American Health Initiative


Summer 2019
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Sisters Mariam and Marwa Ayyach have had each other’s backs all their lives. After emigrating with their family from Beirut, Lebanon, to the U.S. in 2009, they both double-majored in chemistry and biochemistry at U-M Dearborn, often serving as one another’s lab partner. Their passion for science and outreach directed them toward medicine, and now Mariam (M.D. 2019), left, and Marwa, right, a rising fourth-year medical student, have committed themselves to being there for their community. With help from mentor Roland Alexander Blackwood, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of pediatrics, the sisters established the Arab American Health Initiative (AAHI) in 2017 to better reach the Arab American population throughout southeastern Michigan, and to help spread awareness of and access to health care. They are pictured here at U-M Dearborn’s Mardigian Library, where they often hold AAHI meetings.

The mission of AAHI is to reduce health disparities, highlight health care needs, and fight stigma within the Arab American community with the goal of improving health outcomes for Arab Americans. We work toward our mission through three main branches: research, outreach, and mentorship.

We have been humbled by the many individuals who felt comfortable sharing intimate stories and experiences. It is this level of comfort that we strived for as a group to get the conversation going around sensitive health topics in our Arab American community. Through our events, we have discussed emergency medical response, hospice and end-of-life care, general health and well-being, domestic violence, vaccines and autism, and mental health.

We want to set a good example and be role models for younger students of similar backgrounds, and assure them that, even though the journey might be challenging sometimes, they can succeed and achieve whatever they set their minds to.”

Mariam and Marwa Ayyash