It's been a long journey, but 17-year-old Sudanese refugee Teresa Yuol is kicking off her university career as UNSW's first Football United scholar.
Teresa has begun classes in anthropology and sociology, supported by the first scholarship in a pilot program designed to help young people with limited resources, formal schooling and family support access a tertiary education.
"I only arrived in Australia in 2003 and it was not long ago that I graduated from high school. Now I am finding myself in a new life at university. I'm very excited ..."
The Football United scholarship builds on the Football United program, a UNSW initiative that uses regular soccer programs to build opportunities for belonging, racial harmony and social inclusion among the 7,000 refugee children who arrive in Australia every year.
Teresa, who lives in Blacktown, said it was a special feeling to be a Football United member and to be offered the chance of a tertiary education.
"I have been part of Football United for the last four years, joining when I was 13. It is a fantastic program that gives so many opportunities.."
Born in the Kenyan refugee camp of Kakuna, Teresa's parents died shortly after her birth. She moved to Australia when she was 10 under the guardianship of her aunt. With her schooling interrupted due to the difficulties of camp life and illness, Teresa didn't learn to read and write English until she arrived in Sydney.
"It is great to be offered this opportunity. It was just a few weeks ago that they called me and said that I got the scholarship. I couldn't describe the way I felt at that time.
"I am looking forward to starting at UNSW and to achieve my goals by little steps and with the help of Football United and UNSW there is no doubt that I will succeed," Teresa said.
Football United founder, Ms Anne-Bunde-Birouste, from UNSW's School of Public Health and Community Medicine, said the scholarship will cover a year's bridging study and, if successful, could be extended to cover the costs of Teresa's undergraduate degree.
"Teresa is just one example of what young people will achieve if someone takes the time to support and believe in them. The scholarship is worth much more than its dollar amount in the opportunities it provides," Ms Bunde-Birouste said.
"UNSW recognises that there is more than one way to assess an individual's capacity, and I'm proud to be part of a university that supports such an initiative," Ms Bunde-Birouste said.
"I look forward to ensure that we actively fundraise for additional scholarships for Football United players such as Teresa."
Teresa's message to other teenagers is to take every opportunity that comes their way.
"Opportunities like this come only once in a lifetime. It's a scholarship so there's nothing to repay. All you have to do is prove that you are the perfect person and then just believe in yourself."
Media contact: Steve Offner, UNSW Media | 02 9385 8107