What Education Means to Arooba

Arooba’s arrival in the UK in circumstances beyond her control placed her in a period of extended uncertainty at a crucial time in her life. Having recently completed her A-levels abroad and as an academically gifted and driven young woman, she faced three years of failed attempts to continue her education and attend University in the UK. Even after she was eventually granted a place at Royal Holloway University of London, she almost had to abandon her place due to financial issues, until a grant from Hope for the Young finally allowed her to achieve her dream. As she writes, ‘Education means hope to me. It shows that there can be a future.’

Arooba first arrived in the UK from Pakistan five years ago, suddenly and without a choice. This seismic shift in her life left her feeling like a ‘complete outsider’, an experience that was only exacerbated by her first experiences in the UK. Beyond the struggle of her flight from her home country and reasons for her asylum claim, she initially faced discrimination due to her religion and culture, and a protracted period of psychologically-damaging uncertainty due to her asylum status. Unable to study for the first six months after her arrival, she found herself in unexpected classes for the next three years, slowly working her way up, while she was shortlisted, but repeatedly unsuccessful for ‘Article 26’* scholarships to study a medicine related degree at University.

The impact of these years was huge: ‘it made me feel useless, as if my life and my dreams didn’t matter. It made me feel insecure and mentally drained. I was filled with negative thoughts all the time’. Remarkably, her enduring drive and passion for science, in particular cancer research, eventually earned her a place at Royal Holloway in September 2017. However, without additional funding from Hope for the Young to cover her living allowances, she would not have been able to begin this important next stage of her life.

Finally able to access higher education, she feels that the ‘UK is the country where my voice has now started to be heard’. Even as she continues to struggle with stress and anxiety daily, she has been able to channel her attention towards her university studies and making a positive difference in the world. In her spare time, she likes to attend science-related conferences and where possible, talks concerning forced immigration and asylum seekers. Indeed, her personal experience has inspired her to work with other asylum seekers in the UK, which has seen her volunteer in a wide range of activities, including for the British Heart Foundation. She is more than aware of the challenging situation asylum seekers face here in the UK, such as the fact that they, like her, are unable to access loans or student finance to support their studies. Categorised as international students, and hence liable to far higher student fees, it is virtually impossible for asylum seekers to attend a UK University without scholarships and additional grants, such as the one she received from Hope for the Young. She points out how ‘for people like me, even a small grant means enormous things. Helping people both financially and emotionally makes a significant difference and Hope for the Young has been that supporter for me. Without them, one more dream would have been crushed under the weight of hopeless, unending weight and doubts.’

For a woman of her age and her significant encounters with adversity, she speaks with a profound maturity and drive: “Education means understanding diversity, not only in terms of books, but also in terms of people around us. I believe education helps to tame us into the person we become, where we can begin to understand our community, and become more humble and compassionate towards everyone around us.”

*The Article 26 project works in partnership with universities to provide advice and support for asylum-seeking students, which includes a limited number of full tuition fee bursaries and funding to meet some of the additional costs of study.