Monday 24 September 2012

Top scorers succeed despite tough childhood: Anugerah MENDAKI 2012

By Jennani Durai, The Straits Times, 23 Sep 2012

They were both raised by single mothers and had faced difficulties in school.

But yesterday, 18-year-old Muhammad Asyraf Chumino (left in photo) and 26-year-old Muhammad Kamal Jauhari Zaini were singled out from a group of 400 high achievers in the Muslim community for their resilience in the face of challenges.

They were the only recipients of the Special Achievement Award at this year's Anugerah Mendaki awards, organised by the Muslim self-help group.

The awards ceremony to recognise Muslim students who are among the top 10 per cent of their academic cohorts was held yesterday at Nanyang Polytechnic.

Senior Minister of State for Education, and Information, Communications and the Arts Lawrence Wong, who was the guest of honour, gave out the awards to top scorers in the Primary School Leaving Examination, the N levels, the O levels, the A levels and the International Baccalaureate diploma.

Students who topped madrasah, polytechnic, university or Institute of Technical Education courses were also honoured.

Mr Asyraf, who topped his cohort in Northlight School last year with a grade point average of 3.85 out of 4, had dropped out of school when he was 10 years old to take care of his mother after his father died.

The soft-spoken young man said his mother had sunk into depression. "After observing how she acted for a while, I realised she couldn't cope on her own, so I decided to stay at home with her," he said.

His teachers from primary school would routinely bring him homework and books for him to keep studying at home. Things remained that way for four years, until his mother got back on her feet. He then enrolled himself in Mendaki's Max Out programme, which gives out-of-school young people another chance at education. After two years there, he joined Northlight.

Last year, he was one of two recipients of the Lee Hsien Loong Award for Special Achievement.

The youngest of three children said his family and teachers had played a big role in his success.

"My mother has been my biggest motivation, and I could not have done it without the strong support of all my aunts and uncles. My teachers at Northlight also saw my potential and encouraged me a lot," he said.

Mr Kamal Jauhari, who graduated from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) with first-class honours, similarly credited his mother for his success.

He was a troublemaker in school - often playing truant, smoking, bullying classmates and being rude to teachers. His turning point came when he was suspended from secondary school for two weeks.

"During those two weeks, my mother took time off work every single day to go to my school and plead with my principal not to expel me," recalled Mr Kamal Jauhari, who has an older sister. "That was when I realised I was hurting my mother, and I told myself I had to stop my shenanigans."

This year, he won the Lee Kuan Yew Gold medal for being the top graduate in his sociology course at NTU.

Yesterday's awards ceremony also honoured 19-year-old Adil Hakeem Mohamad Rafee, the first Malay President's Scholar in more than four decades.

In a short speech, he told the gathered award winners and parents that he measured success by the amount of effort put in, rather than the outcome.

"Many of you have faced far greater challenges than I have in order to succeed," he said. "I salute your achievements."

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