SINGAPORE – In primary school, Kristina Liu struggled with a visual impairment that caused her to be bullied by some of her classmates.
At 17, her condition worsened when a speeding van knocked her over. The accident injured the frontal lobe of her brain, giving her a host of memory, communication and vision-related problems.
Yet, she has come back fighting.
She dropped out of school after the accident, but persevered and returned to school after seven years of therapy and recovery.
Now 30, Ms Liu is among three recipients of this year’s Asia Pacific Breweries (APB) Foundation Scholarship for Persons with Disabilities.
The other two are Mr Joshua Tseng, 20, who is visually impaired, and Mr Lee Ci En, 21, who has short-limbed dwarfism.
Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee presented the awards at the SPD centre near Tiong Bahru on Tuesday (Sept 26). SPD is a charity organisation that supports people with disabilities.
Mr Lee said: “Through these scholarships, more students with disabilities and with the potential to achieve more are given a chance to do so, and, in turn, contribute to society in ways that they are able to.”
The bond-free scholarship is awarded annually to students with disabilities who excel academically. Sponsored by APB Foundation and managed by SPD, it awards $12,000 annually to cover the recipient’s university education.
Since the scholarship’s launch in 2004, it has benefited about 40 students.
For Ms Liu, the scholarship is the culmination of years of pain and tears, before she learnt to accept who she was.
“Because of my visual impairment, I looked sideways to focus on things and people thought I was glaring at them.” She recalled crying herself to sleep because her classmates bullied her for being different.
She enrolled in Ngee Ann Polytechnic to study child psychology in 2011. This August, she started her course in linguistics at Nanyang Technological University.
“After the accident, I finally learnt that it is okay to be different. Not everyone needs to be the same. My experiences made me a better and more mature person.”
Mr Lee Ci En, who is a third-year political science student at the Singapore Management University (SMU), agrees. “People stare at me in public because of my stature, and it makes me realise that I shouldn’t do the same to others who are different from the norm. I want to inspire others instead and show them how to see things from another person’s point of view.”
As for Mr Tseng, his visual impairment means that he has to use a white cane, something that initially made him feel ashamed as he thought it was admitting defeat.
Said the first-year SMU information systems student: “Now I realise it’s just a fact of life. If I want to do things and leave the house, I have to use it. The biggest challenge is really myself. I have to come to terms with who I am.”