In his first job as a dog handler with the British Armed Forces in 1967, he faced difficulties as he had a poor command of English and could barely write a sentence.
But come Aug 9, Mr Rama Kerisna will be one of four Singaporeans whose life stories in overcoming challenges and attaining achievements will get an airing at the National Day Parade (NDP).
The three others are Michelin-starred hawker Chan Hon Meng, 52; indoor skydiving champion Kyra Poh, 15; and top female police officer Zuraidah Abdullah, 55.
They will all be featured in a video in the final act of the NDP show.
They will then appear near the summit of a "mountain", symbolic of the challenges they conquered.
A spokesman for the NDP 2017 show committee said: "The achievers were chosen because of their unflinching determination in seeking out success in their different fields, and they were able to do so with the support of family and friends."
At 70, Mr Rama has completed over 30 Workforce Skills Qualifications courses. The courses are mostly related to security matters and conducting training. He has also attended courses in computer skills, and to get licences to be a taxi driver and a bus driver.
He now works at ground-handling firm dnata Singapore, training employees in areas such as safety on airport runways and handling of dangerous goods.
"I feel honoured to be identified and recognised as one of the achievers," said Mr Rama, who will be taking part in the NDP for the first time.
"My family is also proud of my involvement. It is a recognition of my lifelong learning journey."
Mr Chan, who has been in the culinary business for about 35 years, owns Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle at Chinatown Complex Food Centre. The stall was awarded a one-star rating in the inaugural Singapore Michelin Guide launched last year.
Ms Poh had to juggle training and examinations as a student at the School of the Arts, but she managed to clinch two golds and a silver at the Windoor Wind Games in Spain in February. The annual event featured almost 200 fliers from more than 18 countries competing across eight categories.
Madam Zuraidah will be recognised for being the first woman to hold the rank of senior assistant commissioner of police. She was promoted to that post in 2013.
At the NDP, Olympic champion Joseph Schooling and Paralympic champion Yip Pin Xiu will be just metres above Mr Rama, at the summit of the mountain.
"I'm excited to meet them. I'll probably try to take a photo with them and get their autographs," said Mr Rama.