Shahra with her brothers Majid and Kudbudeen and mother Fathima Jafar. Image Credit: Zarina Fernandes/XPRESS

Dubai: Three years ago Indian teenager Shahra Jafar Ali sat in her one-bedroom Nad Al Sheba house unsure of where life was going to take her.

She was surrounded by trophies won at school for academics and sports, but no future to look forward to. Her Sri Lankan mother, working as a housemaid for an Emirati household, had just told her that she could not pursue higher studies as the family had no money to pay her college fee. Not one to be bogged down, Shahra approached XPRESS seeking help.

We ran her story on December 12, 2013. The report titled Trophies aplenty but no money to attend college touched many hearts. Within days scores of Good Samaritans stepped forward to help her.

But the biggest support came from Australia’s Murdoch University Dubai which granted Shahra a 100 per cent scholarship and enrolled her for a three-year BSc Computer Science programme. If she had to pay from her own pocket she would have had to fork out Dh140,000 for the three-year course.

Related story: Maid’s daughter gets college scholarship

Fast forward to 2016. Shahra, now 20, is all set to graduate with distinction in two majors - Computer Science and Business Information Systems. She has also bagged the university’s prestigious vice chancellor’s award for academic excellence in Information Technology (IT).

XPRESS impact

“When I read Shahra’s story in XPRESS, I felt bad that someone so talented was not going to get a college education because of lack of funds. Our university was founded with the idea of making opportunities available to everyone and so we decided to take up her full tuition fees. Education must reach everyone and today we are so happy that we found Shahra through your newspaper. She is a great asset to our college,” said Daniel Adkins, academic director of Murdoch University.

In a heart-warming email to XPRESS, Gary Fernandes, vice president, marketing and student recruitment, said: “Thank you for helping us reach out to brilliant students like Shahra...Her story is still winning the hearts of many!”

Fernandes has also invited XPRESS to Shahra’s graduation ceremony in October.

“XPRESS changed my life forever. Just when I thought I had reached a dead end, the scholarship opened doors for me and my family. On the first day to college, my mother told me to work hard and make everyone who showed faith in me proud. I hope I have achieved this,” Shahra said when this reporter caught up with her at Murdoch University Dubai in Academic City on Sunday.

Her professor Wayne Muller said she got the coveted vice chancellor’s medal for maintaining a 4.0 GPA for three consecutive terms.

“Shahra is easily one of our best students. She is a very determined girl and has a great future. I am very happy for her and wish her all the best in her future endeavours,” he said.

Shahra, who lost her Indian father Jafar Ali Kader Ushen when she was 10 years old, studied till grade 12 with the help of the Emirati family where her mother Fathima is employed.

“God has been kind to me. I can never forget the people who have supported me all these years. I am particularly grateful to the staff at Murdoch who not only helped me but also granted a 75 per cent scholarship to my younger brother Mohammad Kudbudeen. My mother worked as a housemaid for most of her life. Now I want to do something for her. Unfortunately my passport is Indian and hers is Sri Lankan. So we will have to find a third country, perhaps Australia to settle down. But first I want to do my masters,” she said.

Murdoch University has offered to help Shahra find an internship in Australia through its career offices.

“We will try our best to send her on a scholarship to Murdoch University in Perth,” said Adkins.

The story so far...

1991: Sri Lankan Fathima comes to the UAE on a maid’s visa and falls in love with Indian Jafar Al Kader Ushen working as a public relations officer for an Emirati family in Dubai

1994-2004: Fathima marries Ushen while still working as a maid and they have three children - daughter Shahra and two sons.

2005: Shahra is 10 years old when Ushen dies in a car accident. The Emirati enrols Shahra and her brothers in Crescent English High School, pays for their education, arranges accommodation and gives them Dh2,000 per month to meet other expenses.

2006-2013: Shahra wins numerous medals and trophies in school but hits a road block after studying till grade 12

December 13 2013: XPRESS publishes report highlighting Shahra’s plight after she approaches the newspaper seeking help

December 17, 2013: Murdoch University Dubai grants Shahra 100 per cent scholarship after reading XPRESS report and enrols her for BSc Computer Science programme

January 2014: Shahra begins college at Murdoch Universit

February 2016: Shahra wins the vice chancellor’s award for academic excellence

March 2016: Shahra all set to graduate after getting distinction in two majors

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