Near-death experience makes pupil appreciate life more

The TKPS pupils who survived the Mount Kinabalu earthquake yesterday received awards that recognised their courage and resilience. Their seven schoolmates who died received the award posthumously.
The TKPS pupils who survived the Mount Kinabalu earthquake yesterday received awards that recognised their courage and resilience. Their seven schoolmates who died received the award posthumously. ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

When Tanjong Katong Primary School pupil Leong Wan Ting, 12, returned to school after the June holidays this year, she often found herself unable to focus.

She was part of a group of 29 pupils who were at Mount Kinabalu in Sabah in the first week of June when an earthquake struck, killing seven pupils, two school teachers and an adventure camp guide.

Some of the victims were her classmates. She was close to them and had often chatted with them.

"I couldn't concentrate when I saw their empty seats in class. It felt strange. Sometimes I would not hear what the teacher was saying because I was thinking of them," said Wan Ting.

But she got through the rest of the school year and the Primary School Leaving Examination with the help of her teachers, who gave her extra coaching.

Talking to friends helped her to cope with her grief, she said. "We would talk about our friends (who had died), no matter if they were happy or sad memories. Sometimes we would cry together, but we would be okay after that."

The near-death experience has made her appreciate life more. "My friends... were taken away before they could fulfil their dreams. I'm glad that I survived," she said.

Like her fellow survivors, she hopes to go back to scale Mount Kinabalu one day for her friends.

"My friends did not manage to complete the climb. I want to do it for them," she said.

Pearl Lee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 20, 2015, with the headline 'Near-death experience makes pupil appreciate life more'. Print Edition | Subscribe