DUBAI // Tasneem Mohammed achieved a grade average of 98.1 per cent in her final year of high school, but financial constraints left her unsure if she could go on to university.
With five sisters and a brother, and a recently retired father, she faced problems funding her academic tuition.
However, with assistance from the Zakat Fund, Ms Mohammed, who is from Syria, is now studying at Dubai Pharmacy College.
"I would have eventually gone into the workforce, but my parents were both keen for me to complete my education," she said.
"I know that I would have been upset if I had not been able to pursue my university studies, so I was very grateful when my scholarship grant came through."
Ms Mohammed is among 59 high-achieving students, both Emirati and expatriate, who received academic scholarships after applying to Rabi Zidni Ilma (Lord, increase my knowledge), a Zakat Fund programme.
The Fund started the programme in 2010, and allocated about Dh8 million to ensure that deserving students with limited means received assistance.
The scholarship awarded to each student differs according to their needs.
Mohammad Sulaiman al Balushi, the director of the department of Zakat beneficiaries, said: "One of the fund's strategic objectives is to transform social welfare to social development, in order for recipients to be able to work and have a secure future."
Ms Mohammed's mother, Bushra, recalled how her daughter consistently excelled at school.
"I would have been heartbroken had she not been able to pursue her education, because she is truly deserving," she said. "This is a great programme by the Zakat Fund, and we are thankful, especially because they lend a hand to students who have excelled and are talented."
Neama Qassem, 21, from Jordan, is another grateful beneficiary of the programme.
She is studying for a degree in industrial engineering at Al Hosn University in Abu Dhabi.
"My average in my final year of high school was 90.3," she said.
"I took it to heart when I had to stay home for two years before going to university. Our financial resources were limited after my father got sick, and I was the eldest of six children.
"My parents had other expenses, which meant that sending me to university would not have been possible."
She said she hopes to give back to her family and society as well.
"I would really like to do my master's some day," she said. "This scholarship gave me hope and the ambition to achieve my goals … I know I will be able to help my family eventually."
The Zakat Fund invites applications at the end of each academic year through various media channels.
Students receive funding for the duration of their university studies, as long as they maintain a high level of academic excellence.
After hearing about the Zakat Fund scholarship grant from an acquaintance, Reem Ali, 20, from Yemen, decided to apply. She is now studying for a degree in finance at Abu Dhabi University.
"I love learning, but my family could not afford the cost of university," said Ms Ali, who has four younger brothers and a sister.
"I was excited when I got accepted because it altered the course of my life."
Ms Ali said she hoped that after obtaining her degree, she would find a job and be able to fund her own postgraduate studies.
"I am optimistic about what the future holds for me, and thankful to everyone who contributed so students like myself can become independent, find jobs, and give back to our families and the UAE," she said.