Swimming: Rare trip to see Schooling in Hungary

VIDEO: LIFTING DREAMS
Gan Eng Seng student Hanisa Karim, a budding athlete, and Catholic High's Wong Zhi Wei, who is partially blind, are among eight young people selected to go on a fully sponsored trip to the World Swimming Championships in Hungary. For Hanisa, who come
Gan Eng Seng student Hanisa Karim, a budding athlete, and Catholic High's Wong Zhi Wei, who is partially blind, are among eight young people selected to go on a fully sponsored trip to the World Swimming Championships in Hungary. For Hanisa, who comes from a needy family, it will be her first time overseas in five years.PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

It is hoped observing world's best swimmers display grit & determination will inspire them

It is the June school holidays but unlike many of her peers, Hanisa Karim will not be heading overseas for a vacation.

Travelling out of Singapore is difficult for the Gan Eng Seng Secondary 4 student and her financially strapped family. The second oldest child shares a one-room flat in Bukit Merah, a 10-minute walk from her school, with five other siblings, aged 17, 13, 11, 10 and nine, and her parents.

Hanisa receives a $50 monthly allowance from her mother, who works as a cashier in NTUC FairPrice, while she is also under the school's financial assistance scheme.

The bubbly 16-year-old said: "I haven't used my passport for four years. It's a bit wasted.

"My mum and dad can afford to give us only our pocket money. We are actually trying to save up to go to JB (Johor Baru) together as a family for the first time.

"Every school holidays, I would stay in Singapore, and when I see some of my friends post their travelling photos on Instagram, I would ask myself 'When can I do this?' and I cannot help but feel that I'm kind of missing out.

"But I know it's not my time to travel yet. The time will come someday."

GIVING A LEG UP

If they've got greater support, they can go a lot further. The truth is, it's not an even playing field and we don't have the same starting base.

MS NG SHIN EIN, who hopes the trip will spur the eight student-athletes.

The budding track and field runner will not have to wait much longer, thanks to Lifting Dreams, a new initiative started by Singapore's non-resident ambassador to Hungary Ng Shin Ein.

Hanisa is one of eight local student athletes - aged 15 to 23 - selected for a fully sponsored trip next month to Budapest.

They will be in the Hungarian capital from July 26 to Aug 1 and besides sightseeing, will also receive tickets to watch Singapore's Olympic champion Joseph Schooling compete at the Fina World Swimming Championships held at the city's Danube Arena. Hanisa and the group will also have dinner with Schooling.

Ms Ng, 43, hopes that the trip will inspire the eight youngsters, especially those from low-income families or less accomplished.

She said: "Not everyone comes from an environment that indulges in sports or a place that supports them in their pursuits. If they've got greater support, they can go a lot further. The truth is, it's not an even playing field and we don't have the same starting base.

"So we want to impact these eight youth, and hope they can be inspired by the grit and perseverance shown by the world's best swimmers. And then like a ripple effect, they can apply it in their lives and their respective communities."

Catholic High School's Wong Zhi Wei's right eye is totally blind and he has a 6/60 vision in his left eye but the 15-year-old para-swimmer believes he can be as quick as his able-bodied rivals.

The Secondary 3 student said: "At first, I had a bad outlook on competitive swimming. As a disabled athlete, when I lose to people who are younger and less developed than me, sometimes I feel like I'm worth less. But I've learnt not to be demoralised and keep improving."

News that she was one of the eight student-athletes picked - chosen out of about 200 applicants - stunned Hanisa, who has a modest record. She has never qualified for a final in four years of competing in the Schools National Track and Field Championships.

She said: "I want to ask Joseph if he's ever felt insecure like me during training sessions, when other people are better than me and I feel like I'm just like a tiny girl out there.

"It's super hard to imagine that I could be going to Budapest, growing up with my family background. I'm really thankful to be chosen because I'm like a nobody, I'm not even a professional athlete."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 07, 2017, with the headline 'Dreams come true for eight in Hungary trip'. Print Edition | Subscribe