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Refugee says education in Australia changed her life

02 August 2017

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In 2003, at just 10 years of age, Naba Alfayadh (above) arrived in Australia with her family as a refugee, overwhelmed and scared. Australia – with its own customs and language - was completely foreign to her. She felt out of place and alone. Five short months later, her father passed away, making her struggle to integrate into the community even harder.

Today, 14 years on, Naba is juggling a Bachelor of Medicine & Surgery at Monash University with her work at Happy Brain Education, a not-for-profit organisation she co-founded that is changing the lives of young Australians through education.

Naba is one of 10 social innovators to receive a Westpac Social Change Fellowship through the Westpac Bicentennial Foundation.

Meet Naba…

I believe in the power of education.

Education changed my life. The opportunities, self-worth and affirmation that came from school were extremely empowering. The teachers I had when I was growing up were incredible - from my Year 5 and 6 teacher, Mr Hilton, to my Year 12 teacher, Ms Keegan. They were incredible and made me love studying. 

By studying and reading and engaging with school, and with others at school, I managed to learn about myself and about the world. Prior to that, I didn’t believe I deserved to have a place in the world or even deserved to enjoy life. I just tried to melt into the background whenever possible.

Education opened up so many doors to me, and made me understand the world and realise that everyone was worthy, and that everyone was equal. I know that education can help many other children who come from a similar background to me. It can empower, encourage, and open many doors for them too.

My proudest moment so far in life was being part of a homelessness project our Happy Brain Education students started. They organised kits with food, water and personal hygiene products to give out to homeless people across Melbourne. I was so proud that day, and beyond, of the progress our students had made. They went from shy kids who didn’t think they were entitled to have a say about social issues, to being at the forefront of positive social change. I felt the examples we set at Happy Brain Education, our mentoring and support had actually made a difference - not just to them, but to all the homeless people they’d helped too.

I believe the best way to invest in the future of our country is to invest in people.

I feel really lucky to be a Westpac Scholar. I will be using this scholarship to empower more people. It will enable me to learn from thought leaders around the world and return to Australia and implement these ideas into Happy Brain Education.

I think these scholarships are extremely important for the future of Australia. They will have a huge impact on the people that receive them, on the communities they are immediately impacting, and the country as a whole.

Westpac Social Change Fellowship – applications close 16 August
The Westpac Social Change Fellowship, valued up to $50,000, supports innovators with a passion to create positive social change in Australia.

Westpac Research Fellowship – applications close 31 August
The Westpac Research Fellowship supports early career researchers to undertake ground-breaking research, here in Australia. Offered in partnership with four universities, it’s valued at a minimum $400,000 over three years.

Westpac Future Leaders Scholarship – applications close 5 September
The Westpac Future Leaders Scholarship, valued up to $120,000, supports exceptional individuals undertake postgraduate study at Australia’s leading universities.