Asylum seeker’s lifeline

An equity scholarship is helping Iran-born Pouya Heidari realise his dreams. By Larissa Dubecki.

Alexander Theatre
Pouya Heidari: “It’s a huge help for me, a life-changer.”

The past three years haven’t been easy for Pouya Heidari. The threat of religious persecution kept him in Australia, along with his mother and brother, when his father – an academic on a temporary research visa – returned to their native Iran. After worshipping in private back in Iran for many  years, taking their Christianity public in Australia was a great freedom, but it came at a huge cost. Not only did they lose their father, Pouya and his brother had to become breadwinners. With each of them on a bridging visa while they await the outcome of their asylum applications (a situation hopefully being  resolved very soon), Heidari does not have rights to publicly funded education.

But it’s thanks to a dedicated Asylum Seekers Bursary scholarship from Monash University that Heidari, now 20, is at the end of his first year of a Bachelor of Science course, and thriving. He’s long dreamed of being an astrophysicist – his heroes are Bill Gates and cosmologist Neil deGrasse Tyson  – but had no hope of otherwise affording his chosen course’s annual $35,000 fee.

The Asylum Seekers Bursary is a recent addition to Monash’s raft of equity scholarships committed to helping people from diverse backgrounds attend university. For the first time, philanthropic gifts are supporting a scholarship specifically for asylum seekers, giving recipients such as Heidari full tuition  fees, plus $3000 a year for living expenses. For Heidari, it was nothing less than a lifeline. “It was my only chance to get into university, so it was a miracle, really,” he says. “It’s a huge help for me, a life-changer.” That life has changed dramatically for Heidari  over recent years. He lives with his mother and brother in a house they rent in Clayton. His brother, 28, shoulders the majority of household responsibility with his job at Bunnings.

“It was my only chance to get into university, so it was a miracle, really.”

“He’s the first person in my family. He pays the bills and the rent. Without him we couldn’t survive,” says his proud little brother.

A table tennis and chess aficionado who also likes to spend his free time reading science articles online, Heidari works part-time at McDonald’s and volunteers each Saturday morning with his mother at their local church-run op-shop. Yet not everything is rosy. He still worries about his father, from whom  he has received no word for many months. “Possibly he doesn’t want to contact us, but maybe the government is investigating him, or he could be in prison,” he says. Family members have tried to find him in Iran and failed. “It’s very tough for my mum and for all of us,”  says Heidari with simple understatement.

Heidari says he cried when he heard he’d received the scholarship. He walked the streets near his house for an hour, digesting the news, before telling his family, who also wept. “There are very talented children in the world that unfortunately don’t get noticed due to their financial  problems,” he says. “It’s not easy, but I can be more happy now.”

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