UNSW psychology graduate and former ASPIRE ambassador Ayesha Nazir is heading to Pakistan to fulfil her passion to help disadvantaged children, particularly girls, gain access to education.
Ayesha attended Auburn Girls High School, in Sydney’s west, and says most of her school friends were not interested in going to university so she wasn’t sure if she wanted to go.
“It wasn’t really on my radar,” she says. Her mother Afzala also attended Auburn Girls High and married soon after finishing school. She regretted not having the opportunity to go to university and encouraged Ayesha to enrol.
“My mum really values education. She said to me ‘you have to go to university – it’s not an option’. It was her dream to see me graduate,” says Ayesha, whose family is originally from Pakistan.
Ayesha enrolled in a Bachelor of Psychological Science at UNSW, however like many first year students, she found the transition to university difficult.
“In my first year I really struggled. I wanted to drop out. Everyone seemed like they were from a different world than mine and I really missed my high school,” she says.
It was that desire to reconnect with her school that led Ayesha to volunteer with the ASPIRE program – an educational outreach program based at UNSW.
ASPIRE works with school students from low socio-economic backgrounds to increase educational aspirations and help students access a university education.
Auburn Girls High School is a partner school in the program and Ayesha thought it would be a great opportunity to visit her alma mater.
“Initially I just thought it would just be nice to visit my high school but it sort of grew from there. I fell in love with the program and what it achieves,” she says.
The ASPIRE team became her mentors and provided support to help her get through her studies. Volunteering with other ASPIRE ambassadors also provided the opportunity to meet and make friends with students from a similar background.
After graduating, Ayesha took on a role as a graduate intern at ASPIRE, helping to coordinate student volunteers and organise workshops and events in disadvantaged schools.
“ASPIRE played a major role in helping me discover what I am passionate about and what I love doing. I really loved working with the communities we went out to, and I loved working with the school students,” she says.
Based on her experience at ASPIRE, Ayesha applied for a position with ‘The Citizen’s Foundation’, an NGO in Pakistan that aims to remove barriers to education by building schools and providing lessons to thousands of underprivileged children.
“The organisation has more than 1000 schools across Pakistan, and there is a large volunteer and alumni program. I will be coordinating this in the Lahore region.”
“If I hadn’t worked in the ASPIRE program I don’t think I would have had the courage to apply for a job in such a challenging environment,” Ayesha says.
The education of girls is a focus for the organisation, which promotes a 50/50 gender ratio, as well as strategies to encourage girls to complete their education.
“I’m really passionate about education because I’m the first in my family to go to university.
“It sounds clichéd but it has been life-changing. The person I am now is very different from when I first arrived at UNSW. I’ve gained courage. I’m proud of who I am.
“When I started I lacked self-confidence and I didn’t want to tell people where I was from. Now I am very proud to share my story.”