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Jul 13, 2023

Scholarship support makes university dream a reality for Fathema


Afghani-born Fathema always had a dream to go to university, but she never imagined it would become a reality. Born in war-torn Afghanistan and diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), Fathema thought having a disability – and coming from a non-English speaking background – would limit her opportunities.

Tertiary scholarship support from Northcott, however, gave Fathema the financial assistance and encouragement she needed to complete a Bachelor of Business degree at Western Sydney University and become the first in her family to graduate.

The confident young woman is now completing a paid internship with insurer IAG, as part of the Australian Network on Disability (AND) Stepping Into program, and seeking a permanent role. She is also about to embark on a Masters in Marketing.

For a girl who sat behind a window, dreaming of going to school was hard enough, let alone dreaming to go to university. So when I was able to go to university [despite] all those hardships and then knowing that there was a scholarship to help me get through it…was everything that I ever could ask for. That’s why I’m grateful for the scholarships that are offered by Northcott


Fathema started receiving scholarship support from Northcott in her second year of university, when her occupational therapist encouraged her to apply. Since 2016, she has been a recipient of the Thomas Hepburn Scholarship, and in 2018 and 2019, she also received support through the Gregory and Dolores Farrell Scholarship.

She says receiving the scholarships was the difference between dropping out of university and being where she is today.

“When I started uni, the first year was hard with the cost of textbooks and travel. I didn’t know about the scholarships. It was make or break. The scholarships helped support me to continue,” she explains.

Fathema primarily used the scholarship money to help pay for taxi travel to and from university and her textbooks.

“Without the scholarships, I don’t think I would have been at uni because I would have dropped out. I don’t think I would have been able to continue because if you really want to be involved in uni, you have to do extra stuff. You have to be involved there, get the extra textbooks, read the materials and maybe even go an extra day – which costs. Also the student clubs and associations you can be involved in have special uniforms so you have to purchase them – that’s another cost – along with your lunch as well!”

The scholarship support also meant Fathema was able to join an international study tour to South Korea in 2018 – an opportunity that would have been out of reach financially without the extra assistance.

“I would have missed my Korea opportunity which helped with the Stepping Into program. If I had never been able to know that, I would probably just be sitting at home thinking there is nothing for me.”

Fathema says the extra encouragement and support from Northcott throughout her studies is something she is extremely grateful for.

“My greatest appreciation goes to the [scholarship sponsors] for giving me that opportunity. They have shown me that we are all together in this life – that there’s a journey and if we help each other to grow, that’s another satisfaction that we gain. The scholarships have taught me about giving back to the community.”

As for what’s on the agenda for 2020, Fathema says: “I just want to finish my study and then get my career stabilised so I can continue living independently.”

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