'Success story': Scholarship to study medicine for refugee Suaad (17)
A 17-year-old Syrian refugee has won a €5,000-a-year scholarship to study medicine after turning in top-performing Leaving Cert results in a school with a high concentration of disadvantaged students.
Suaad Alshleh said she hopes to be a "success story for what a refugee can do. I just want to represent Syria and refugees in general in a good way and I am very glad I was able to do it through this".
She arrived in Ireland three years ago with her mother. Despite the trauma, including separation from her father, her dream of being a doctor spurred her high-achieving journey through the Irish education system.
Although living in Portlaoise for the past two years, she attended Mountmellick Community School so she could study chemistry, a journey made possible by a friend of her mother's who drove her until her mother got her licence.
Now a first-year student in the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (RCSI), her educational achievements have been recognised by a new bursary in the name of Irish-born scientist and Nobel Prize winner William C Campbell.
The Department of Education-funded scholarship is for a student attending a Deis school who received the highest marks in two science subjects, and who is studying zoology, medicine, physiology or biomedical sciences.
Education Minister Joe McHugh described her as an "inspiration" as he presented the scholarship to Suaad, in the presence of her proud parents, Wesam Jouma and Issam Alshleh, both engineers.
The family now has refugee status, with her father joining his wife and daughter under the family reunification programme.
Suaad described her year living in direct provision, when she was also preparing for the Junior Certificate, as "probably one of the hardest times of my life", but said her experiences of Irish people were "very positive".