Education is freedom

'Education is power. Education is growth. Education is freedom.' This is the mantra recent graduate Widad Ballo lives by.

Widad Ballo
Widad Ballo

A First in Family scholarship recipient, Widad has just completed a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Sociology at Victoria University of Wellington.

“Growing up my mother always said ‘a girl’s weapon is her education’, and I’ve reflected on this many times in my life,” says Widad. “Graduating in May was amazing. I felt empowered because I had accomplished something great. And it was not only about the degree, but also the person I had become through my experiences at the University.”

While studying towards her degree, Widad was president of activities for the VicMuslims club—representing it at Parliament and facilitating forums at the University. She was a youth leader for the Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand, and also wrote select committee submissions for Graduate Women Wellington, focusing on education and public affairs.

Originally from Syria, Widad and her family migrated to Wellington, New Zealand when she was two years old. The family returned regularly to Syria for summer holidays throughout her childhood, but since the start of the Civil War they have not been able to go back.

“I had a very supportive upbringing and consider myself as much a New Zealander as a Syrian,” says Widad. “I love both my cultures and my personal identity comes from being Kiwi, Syrian and Muslim. I am grateful to be part of different cultures and to live in a country that has enabled me to grow up with stability, opportunity, and the ability to choose my own path in life.

“As a woman wearing a hijab and being part of a minority group was sometimes a challenge, but I was determined not to let any ignorance or stereotype get to me. I had a difficult year prior to starting university, with some people saying horrible things to me. To those people I say—look at me now, I made it and I have thrived in so many ways.”

Widad is currently applying for jobs in Wellington and continues to volunteer in the community. She also works with SMART Start Business—a social enterprise supporting migrants and refugees starting their own businesses to achieve better economic wellbeing and social integration.