Education and experience a rewarding combination for migrant mum

Moving to New Zealand from Iraq as a single mum to study at the University of Waikato was a life-changing experience for Dr Leen Al-Hadban.

12 Dec 2023

Dr Leen Al-Hadban.

In 2009, when she enrolled in postgraduate study at Waikato, she knew no one in Hamilton. Her daughter, Nawar, was just two years old, and adjusting to a new country, and a new way of life, was overwhelming.

The support of her University teachers, including Associate Professor Jan Pilditch – who later became her PhD supervisor, and Associate Professor Kirstine Moffat, made a world of difference.

“They were incredible and helped me every step of the way, not just in terms of education, but in terms of pastoral care, because they were aware of my situation as a single mum, and I will be forever indebted to them.”

In 2016, Leen graduated from Waikato with a PhD in English Literature.  Her thesis focused on the image of Middle Eastern women in Oriental literature.

She is now working at Hamilton Multicultural Services (HMS) Trust, supporting migrants and newcomers to settle into life in New Zealand. Leen juggles two roles - working as a translator and interpreter for Decypher, and teaching computer literacy classes.

“I love what I do – it's not just a job,” says Leen.

Decypher, which was established by HMS Trust in 1999, offers services in more than 60 languages, supporting refugee and migrant clients around the Waikato and surrounding regions.

“I get to be the voice and ears of people who can’t speak English, and that means so much to me – I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s legal, medical, sometimes social work, sometimes in schools.”

Leen says tertiary study can make a life-changing difference to migrants and refugees and is applauding a new scholarship for migrant and former refugees being launched by the University of Waikato and Hamilton Multicultural Services (HMS) Trust.

The University of Waikato and HMS Trust Award will provide up to four recipients with up to $8000 towards tuition and course materials. The scholarships will be awarded annually from 2024 to 2028, and eligibility criteria applies.

Leen received an international student scholarship from the University of Waikato when she first started and knows the difference it will make.

“Winning this scholarship will mean so much – not only the financial support - but the boost to their self-esteem."

She says that the Award will open up opportunities for refugees and migrants who may not have the means to attend university.

“Education gives you a better understanding of the world and prepares you better for the future. It gives you an edge. It can open doors and lead to great new opportunities you possibly never thought of.”

Reflecting on her time at Waikato, Leen says it was “an incredible place to start the journey of my life”.

“The study itself was exciting. There were so many opportunities for learning, not only in my field but, being in a university atmosphere; you learn a lot from colleagues, from other students, from lecturers and staff.”

Learning to do research in a New Zealand university setting was a welcome change.

"The University of Waikato allowed me to speak in my own voice."

Now she supports others to have a voice at HMS Trust.

“Through my work, I meet a lot of women who think it’s too late to start studying. I tell them it’s never too late to start studying. In New Zealand you can be anything you like. And I see a glimmer in their eyes, they ask ‘really?’.”

She hopes people of all ages and backgrounds from the Waikato migrant and refugee community will consider applying for the University of Waikato and Hamilton Multicultural Services (HMS) Trust Award.

“This could be a wonderful gateway for women to achieve what they want, when they couldn’t in the past.”

For eligibility and other details, check out The University of Waikato and HMS Trust Award in the Scholarships section of the University of Waikato website.



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