“I moved to Dubai three months ago,” Aseel begins, “and now I’m studying for my GCSEs at DIS. Next year I’ll be taking my GCSE exams.” Then, without missing a beat, she added, “My favourite colours are white and blue because they symbolise peace.” This was said in an off-the-cuff, humorous manner as she gathered her thoughts about what to say next, but there is very real meaning in that statement.
We’ve all heard celebrities when asked what their greatest desire is, respond with “peace in the world”. And while that is a laudable sentiment that we all share, many of them have never been touched by war. Aseel, on the other hand, is a Syrian refugee who, living in Lebanon for the past 14 years, understands exactly what war and being forced out of your homeland really mean.
Aseel was lucky enough to find a wonderful German family, which is, no doubt, one of the reasons why she is now so hooked on the language
Aseel finds herself in Dubai thanks to the Al Futtaim Education Foundation (AFEF), which has joined together with Alsama, a charitable foundation based in Lebanon that provides informal educational support for over 500 refugee children. Through this partnership, a special academic excellence scholarship was offered to high-achieving refugee children to attend DIS, with the scholarship covering the tuition fees and living expenses.
To make this ambitious dream of transforming lives a reality, AFEF reached out to the Al Futtaim Group and schools community living in Dubai, asking, if circumstances permitted, to host and take into their care a scholarship awardee for a full academic year. Aseel was lucky enough to find a wonderful Dutch family, which is, no doubt, one of the reasons why she is now so hooked on the language.
“It’s absolutely amazing living here in Dubai! Aseel says. I have made a lot of friends here from all over the world, and I’m learning new skills and abilities. When I came here three months ago everything was very new to me. The Dutch family I am living with, for instance, with a different language and culture, was a completely new experience – everything was new, but I was determined to overcome the challenges and enjoy my new life.
“I’m having a lot of fun. I’ve visited so many new places. I went to the top of Burj Khalifa, and saw the Burj Al Arab and Jumeriah Beach – there’s so much to do and see. There have been fantastic days out with the school too, such as going to Abu Dhabi on a business trip. I try to participate in all activities at school.”
From Medicine to Business
Aseel is a girl with big, but achievable, dreams too. “When I finish my GCSEs next year, I’m hoping that I will also be able to do my IB, and after that, I would love the opportunity to go to university in the UK to study business.
“For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a doctor. When I came to Dubai, though, out of nowhere I changed my mind and I now want to be a businesswoman. In Lebanon, when I see people there, I want to help them and I thought the best way was to be a doctor – if I was a doctor, I would have the skills and knowledge to help people. But when I moved to Dubai, I thought about it. What would happen if I became a businesswoman? I can make more money, then I can go back to my country, to my people, and to my community to help by utilising my skills; I think this is really needed now and will be in the future.
“I must say, my parents were surprised when I changed my path because I’ve been saying I want to be a doctor for the last 14 years! Nevertheless, my mom always supports me, and whatever I decide she is going to say “Okay if that’s what you want, that’s fine, I’m going to support you”. But my dad was like, “Are you sure? You can’t keep changing your mind, you have to sort it out”. I told him I was sure and he now supports me wholeheartedly.”
“It was the school that actually inspired me to do something with business”
Tied up in Bureaucracy
Aseel’s quest to become an international businesswoman is being kick-started by an internship with the Al Futtaim Group, where she is looking to pick up new knowledge and experience. “It’s through DIS,” she explains, “and I’ll be learning about business, marketing, sales, and much more besides. It was the school that actually inspired me to do something with business, and I’ll be learning about the different business departments and specialisms; for example, human resources, marketing, legal – I want to learn as much as I can.”
Once Aseel switched from medicine to business, she approached it in the same way that she approaches everything, with 100% commitment. In fact, having chosen business for her GCSE, she achieved the highest possible grades. “I was so surprised! This is my first year learning business and I am so pleased that I did so well.”
It hasn’t all been plain sailing over the past three months though. When returning to visit her parents in Lebanon, she got no further than Lebanese Passport Control. “You can’t enter Lebanon,” the border guard said, and when Aseel asked why she was told that she was a refugee in the country but had left, so was forbidden to re-enter. “I explained that I had gone to Dubai with the help of the Al Futtaim Group and, after a long discussion, they discovered it was their mistake. When leaving Lebanon for Dubai, they stamped my passport without asking any questions, and they didn’t ask me if I was a refugee.”
Despite the Lebanese authorities admitting it was their mistake, Aseel still had to get on a plane and return to the UAE. Like every other country on earth, paperwork and legal jargon rule supreme, so Aseel’s family has now hired a lawyer in Beirut to sort everything out. “They are working on my documents in Lebanon, and they’ve said it will be at least a month because it’s the holidays now and everyone has gone home. I’m hoping it will all be done in the next couple of months and then I can visit my parents.”
It’s frustrating for Aseel, naturally, but like everything, she will take it in her stride as she works to become ‘International Businesswoman of the Year 2030’.