Making a difference

Fatima Shafaie

Assistance from UTS has enabled Fatima Shafaie to pursue her dreams in media and law

As a child, Fatima Shafaie used to lay out newspapers at home and read them like a newsreader. “It was a very unconscious thing,” she recalls. “I just did it because I liked it.” It’s fitting that she’s now immersed in current affairs and governance for a Bachelor of Communication in Journalism and Law degree at UTS.

“They are very different, yet they balance each other out,” she remarks of the subjects. Journalism is very practical and on-the-go, while Law is more thought provoking: “we do a lot of discussions, analytical thinking and arguing about laws.”

Born in Afghanistan, Fatima moved to Iran and Pakistan with her family as refugees at a young age. She came to Sydney on a humanitarian visa in 2007 sponsored by her father, who arrived by boat a few years earlier. “It’s devastating” she remarks of developments in her crisis-torn homeland. Members of her extended family in Pakistan are still being targeted due to their ethnicity and religion on a very daily basis, Fatima explains. “I consider myself quite lucky. I came here as a very young teenager, so I’ve had opportunities that other people may not have.”

Contributing to the community

A passionate social justice advocate, Fatima is making an impact in the community. She is one of three youth leaders of Afghans Unite!, a project striving to end prejudice and bullying among young Australian Afghans. It opens a dialog to promote harmony between youth from different Muslim denominations and teaches them media skills to spread the message. She also volunteers at Refugee Advice & Casework Service.

“I’d like to follow the footsteps of everyday people who try to make a change,” she says. Former Justice of the High Court of Australia Michael Kirby; lawyer and Islamaphobia Register Australia creator Mariam Veiszadeh; and Amal Clooney are cited as examples. “They’re individuals in their own field and do things a little bit outside the mainstream, yet they make a lot of impact.”

Becoming independent

Fatima is a receiver of the Ezekiel Solomon Scholarship, awarded to UTS Law undergraduate students who demonstrate initiative and require financial or educational assistance. It is an integral part of the Law Faculty’s commitment to ensure excellent students from diverse backgrounds have access to quality legal studies.

“Despite having come from a low socio-economic background and other disadvantages, my dad has always been supportive of our education,” she says about her family. An older sister who completed a Vision Science degree is now working in optometry and pursuing a master’s degree. Nevertheless, money is always something that constantly hovers over students’ minds: “you’re in university, you try to become a bit independent but the lack of money holds you back.”

Confidence booster

“The one major thing that the scholarship has done for me is to boost my confidence. I can focus on other things like how to enhance my skills, and how to go on and search for internship opportunities,” Fatima explains. It enables her to pay for pricey items such as textbooks and law books, and access technology for her studies and related activites. Being able to purchase appropriate attire to confidently apply for clerkships or internships at high-tier firms has also eased a lot of pressure.

As the final fifth year of the degree approaches next year, Fatima is torn between which pathway to follow. She’s considering places like ABC and SBS for media; to gain law experience she’s currently working as a migration agent assistant. “I’m confident enough to go and work independently, so I feel like this has given me a very good base,” she says. “I’m going to try out for a journalism cadetship and a law clerkship, and see where opportunity takes me.”

Story by Amos Wong
Photography by Kevin Cheung