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Inside the program helping refugee kids excel at STEM

STEM scholarships

The Public Education Foundation (PEF) scholarship has allowed refugees like Evana Jibraeel to be the first in their families to head to uni 

If you’re a high school student, chances are the last few years have been a little all over the place! But among the hardest hit by COVID learning loss? Students from low-socioeconomic and refugee backgrounds.

Luckily scholarships – like those provided by the Public Education Foundation (PEF) – have continued to support students not equipped with the necessary gear for remote learning (think: laptops and software) to make sure they don’t fall behind.

Our biggest challenge continues to be engaging with students and schools during the various disruptions caused by COVID-19,” explains PEF CEO, David Hetherington.

“At a policy level, what is most needed is that every public school is fully resourced to 100% of the national School Resourcing Standard so that organisations like PEF are not required to ensure that children do not miss out on educational basics!”

What gives him hope, however, is the resilience and optimism of the students he helps support – like talented HSC student and refugee Evana Jibraeel, whose experience watching fellow refugees suffer from treatable illnesses has inspired her to become a doctor.

Evana Jibraeel, Year 12, Miller Technology High School

Evana Jibraeel is a total inspiration! With the help of the Public Education Foundation Scholarship and leading online study support service Studiosity, Evana has been able to excel academically – STEM subjects included.

Not only that but she’s the school captain at her school is on track to be the first person in her family to head to uni! Already with such an inspiring pathways, we had to have a chat. 

Evana Jibraeel is just as into STEM as us – human anatomy, science and medicine.

CwS: Hi Evana! Tell us about your journey to Australia.

Evana: “I was only nine when ISIS came to my country. Staying meant torture (or death), and leaving meant starting over – but anywhere was safer than my village Tallsquf in Iraq! My family had only minutes to get in the car and leave, having no clue where we were going. 

“We stayed in a refugee camp for a year, where there was no clean water, no place to bathe, no school, and not enough food and then travelled to Lebanon as a way to get a visa to go to Australia as many other refugees did.

“In Lebanon, life was hard as it was very expensive to live there. We were living in a small, dark, empty shop. My parents and I had to work in cleaning for three and a half years just to pay for rent in the little shop.

“You could imagine how difficult the transition was when I arrived in Australia in 2017!”

CwS: Wow, such a huge journey – thank you for sharing. What were some of the biggest challenges you faced starting at school in Australia?

Evana: “Everything was different – the language, the people, the school system! It was a new start, and I was grateful for it, but it was far from easy. 

“I didn’t know the language and, for a long while, I felt invisible. I went to the Intensive English Centre and every day I was reminded that I was a refugee in this country. 

“I studied hard, asked questions, and spent extra time at home reading books and improving my English. I knew if I didn’t learn English, we would be nothing but a statue in society.”

CwS: How did you become a recipient of the Public Education Foundation (PEF) Scholarship?

Evana: “My careers advisor had posted the link in Google classroom and checked it out! 

“The scholarship has allowed me to focus more on my studies and to one day go to university – the first in my family! It has reduced the stress I have due to my current financial situation. 

“I use it wisely on education expenses such as books, a printer, study aids, a desk, a tutor, and for a university course. My parents wouldn’t be able to help pay for these expenses because it has been difficult for them to find work due to their lack of English and their sickness. With all this support, I hope to be successful in life and explore careers, set goals, develop contacts, and identify resources.”

 CwS: Why do you think scholarships like this are so important? 

Evana: “There are millions of people, refugees, who have experienced the same conflicts and struggles I did. They have the same potential to defy the odds and achieve great things.

“I wish that every student who is facing financial hardship or a refugee can apply and receive such a life-changing scholarship. I also hope that they keep this scholarship program going.”

CwS: Can you tell us about your experiences studying through COVID lockdowns!

Evana: “I missed being at school, being with my friends and being with my teachers. Instead, I was listening and talking to a screen all day.

“Learning from home made me appreciate what the school, what our teachers and what our principal does for us. None of us will ever take school for granted again!”

CwS: What are your longer-term career goals?

Evana: “My long-term career goals are to be a doctor and to go volunteering in an Australian mission or become a mentor for young people in high school. I also want to buy a nice, small house and live a peaceful life with my parents.”

Such an inspiring pathway, right? To learn more about the Public Education Foundation (PEF) scholarship head here.


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