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Girl who fled Zimbabwe flourishes in Essex

MOST A-level students feel they have the weight of the world on their shoulders as they struggle with academic pressure and the stresses of being a teenager.

But Zohra Khalpey, a student at Havering college in Essex, also has the burdens of being thousands of miles from home and constant worry about the family she has left behind in troubled Zimbabwe.

Despite all this, the 18-year-old has flourished and is one of six finalists for the Edexcel academic achievement award.

Zohra fled Zimbabwe two years ago. The threat of army conscription forced her to leave her parents and brothers and she now lives with her uncle and aunt in Romford.

The judges were impressed by Zohra's stoic commitment to her studies. She opens her books at 5am every day, fitting revision around part-time work at Romford cinema. She is also the student union vice-president and raises money for charity.

Her results have been outstanding: A grades in AS-level law, sociology, history and English literature. She is expected to go on to get top grades in her A-levels and plans to do a law degree.

"The thought of conscription was daunting," she said. "Students had to do six months army reserve training before A-levels. There was the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo and they were sending more soldiers out every week. My father was not keen.

"It is very difficult not knowing what is happening to my family. We email and I speak to mum on the phone. It is very emotional, but we have to be careful what we say because the Government can listen in."

Zohra has won pound;1,000, which she will put towards university fees.

Havering college will also get pound;1,000.

On July 6 the teenager flies home to see her family.

She said: "First I'm going to veg out. Then I'm going to give my dad the biggest hug ever."

The academic achievement winner will be announced at a ceremony on July 9 at the London Marriott Hotel.

Awards in other areas including vocational learning and teaching will also be handed out. Finalists in these categories include:

* Amina Al-Yassin from Al-Zahra girls' school in North-west London - young learner's achievement award.

* Raul Castro-Lopez from Telford college in Shropshire, - vocational achievement award.

* Lesley Temple from Abbey school in Kent - outstanding governor award.

* Lisa Veale from Neath Port Talbot college in South Wales - BTEC national achievement award.

* Paula White from Stafford college in Staffordshire - outstanding teacher award.

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