Underdogs who beat the odds: Charting his own course

Mr Mohammad Syafiq Mohammad Suhaini, 26, is a Nanyang Technological University sociology graduate waiting to start his master's in sociology at Oxford University, after which he will take up a job as a research officer.
Mr Mohammad Syafiq Mohammad Suhaini, 26, is a Nanyang Technological University sociology graduate waiting to start his master's in sociology at Oxford University, after which he will take up a job as a research officer.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

He makes good, heeding mum's advice to help himself and do his best after a lacklustre PSLE

When Mr Mohammad Syafiq Mohammad Suhaini got 198 points for his Primary School Leaving Examination, his mother gave him a dressing down.

It was not the scolding but what his mother, a retired administrative support worker, said later that stuck with him. "In the end, she told me I had to help myself and do my best...We were on our own and had to chart our own destination," he recalled.

These solemn words stayed with him and made the younger of two children realise that he had to take responsibility for his own future.

"I was dying to show myself that I could do it. If I don't do it now, I will never do it, and I will live with the disappointment all my life," he said.

Now 26, he is a Nanyang Technological University (NTU) sociology graduate waiting to start his master's in sociology at Oxford University. Upon completing his studies, he will take up a research officer job at the ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute, which is sponsoring his studies in Oxford.

Mr Syafiq is surprised by his own achievements, considering how he had struggled with subjects like mathematics.

During his early years at Siglap Secondary, he was playful and easily distracted, but a teacher got him to take more interest in his schoolwork. "He made me realise I could do it if I put in the effort," he said of the teacher, who he remembered only as a Mr Tan.

NO FUTURE? LEARN TO DREAM

They are told they have no future and, as a mentor, I want to change that. Even if they don't have big dreams, at least they learn to dream.

MR MOHAMMAD SYAFIQ MOHAMMAD SUHAINI, on erasing the stigma of negativity around his charges. He has taught and mentored about 60 students.

 

Although Mr Syafiq did well enough to qualify for junior college, he opted to study mass communication at Singapore Polytechnic. "It gave me more liberty to play around with the subjects, discuss and debate issues. It was really an eye-opener," he said.

His love for debating and taking different perspectives on issues was reinforced by his decision to study sociology in NTU. "Sociology helped me to study society and see things in new ways. It allowed me to challenge normal perspectives, and gave me the space to ask questions, speak out and ultimately see how I could contribute back."

On weekends, he would volunteer at Darul Ghufran Mosque in Tampines, Malay-Muslim organisation Perdaus and non-profit youth organisation Majulah Community.

He taught and mentored about 60 students, mostly from the Normal stream, polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education.

Mr Syafiq is especially passionate about erasing the stigma of negativity around his charges.

"They are told they have no future and, as a mentor, I want to change that. Even if they don't have big dreams, at least they learn to dream," he added.

Mr Syafiq himself never thought his dreams of doing well academically would come true.

"If you asked 12-year-old me, I would never have believed it," he said with a laugh. "What I've learnt is that no one can force you to make choices; you have to make your own way in life."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 17, 2017, with the headline 'Charting his own course'. Print Edition | Subscribe