“On my first day at Heathfield, I remember being overwhelmed, I think, because it was a big change from my primary school. It was the usual kind of nerves and anxiety as I could tell this was going to be a different kind of school, because there was a system, a culture, rich history and we were all girls! I could tell I was joining a special place. I remember being introduced to our classroom, and actually the girl that I sat with just happened to be a girl from my old primary school, and it was really comforting to have her. I remember going around and being told, this is the schedule, these are your books, this is what you do and just trying to take all that in, as part of the first day anywhere new.
What I remember most fondly about my time at Heathfield was the teachers – almost all of them were just amazing role models. They were all people I would aspire to be like and they were so welcoming. So, I think that support of having solid teaching and a strong group of teachers was amazing in my experience.
My family had moved to the UK when I was five. My parents were both engineers in Iraq, but in coming to the UK needed to return to college, so they were both trying to find a way to earn some money while restudying and re-establishing themselves again. My Dad was an engineer back in Iraq and had to come here and do odd jobs, and work with computer companies on very low pay. My Mum was an independent interpreter and would only earn as and when she worked, so that was our family set up. However, academia was incredibly important to them, they prioritised sending me to private school above all else and rather than any other financial gains they wanted to have in life.
My parents found out about Heathfield thanks to a lady called Helen who worked at a local charity that helped refugees get themselves set up after arriving in the UK. While I was at primary school, she mentioned there was a very good local girls’ school in Pinner with a bursary scheme. She suggested it was worth applying to find out more. Helen became a most treasured friend to us over the years
My time at Heathfield taught me everything I know about life, it made me who I am today. I think I would have been a very different person if I hadn’t gone to Heathfield. It taught me to follow my dreams and to persevere no matter what. It was a very warm, welcoming, inclusive environment. It was the early 2000s, so I was one of very few Asian and Muslim girls there, but I never felt out of place. Diversity and differences were celebrated and brought us closer together. It was a place where I felt I could do and be anything, and that was the main message that I got from Heathfield, that anything was possible and that nothing had to hold you back other than your own self.
During my time at the school, it was very much the ‘bubble’ of Heathfield, but when I became Head Girl, I went to the Head Girls Conference in Bath and met other GDST girls from different schools. That was when I first became aware that we were all part of one big organisation.
Since leaving Heathfield, I studied Medicine at UCL and gained a first class honours degree in Human Genetics. I went on to form and join multiple voluntary organisations, carrying out community work and for the last seven years, I have been working as a Doctor in North West London.
In my work, I have continued to build on the skills I gained in school, such as public speaking, leadership, organisation, teamwork, commitment and overall being a well-rounded person. My time at school gave me a great start in life and I owe a lot of my success to the foundation that I got at Heathfield.
The financial assistance I received meant the world to me. It opened the doors to a whole new life and allowed me to fulfil my potential. I am who I am today because of the opportunities Heathfield gave me. I am eternally grateful for that opportunity. I would advise any GDST girl receiving financial assistance today to hold her head up high. You earned that place through the exam and interview just like everyone else. Take the opportunities presented, be confident and thrive.
I think in today’s world more than ever bursaries are important because the way the world is going, equality and kindness are ever more important. I believe you should not be disadvantaged because you come from a family that does not earn enough money. I believe equal opportunities have to mean equal opportunities and I was someone, that had I not had that bursary, could not have achieved what I have and could not have fulfilled my dreams in the way that I have. I strongly believe everyone should be allowed to fulfil their dreams and I certainly do not think money should get in the way of that.
If you are thinking about giving a donation to help fund bursaries, please do it! You can make a difference that will last years and span generations. It is a wonderful legacy to establish. It may feel like just money, but money to one person can mean the world of difference to someone else”.
Dr Ayia Al-Asadi
Alumna, Heathfield School (now Northwood College for Girls)
Class of 2006