SINGAPORE - Sixteen-year-old Christel Phouthavong had a harder childhood than many. Her father walked out on the family 10 years ago and her mother was jailed from 2009 to 2013 for cheating.
On Friday (Dec 22), Christel and her younger brother Bentley received $350 each in bursaries from non-profit Industrial & Services Cooperative Society (Iscos).
Christel, a student of St Anthony's Canossian Secondary School, said that she would use $150 for shopping and give the rest to her mother, while Bentley, 14, will keep $100 and give the balance to his mother. Their mother earns around $1,000 a month for the upkeep of her family of four children.
Christel, who scored top marks of six points for her N levels, said: "My mum doesn't have money, so I want to give her something to be proud of."
She and her brother were among the 133 students who received bursaries totalling almost $40,000 in a ceremony at the MDIS Auditorium in Stirling Road.
The awards are an initiative under the Yellow Ribbon Fund-Iscos Fairy Godparent Programme, aimed at supporting children of current and former offenders from low-income backgrounds. It dispenses bursaries ranging from $200 to $500 to students, depending on the recipient's level in school. It also gives book grants to those who show good progress in their studies.
This year saw the first four recipients of the Tan Ean Kiam-Yellow Ribbon Fund-Iscos Bursary Award, which fully sponsors the polytechnic or Institute of Education studies of a student who cannot otherwise afford it.
Mr Amrin Amin, Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Health, was the guest of honour at the ceremony on Friday.
Addressing the bursary recipients, he said: "Remember the opportunities that you have been given today, and consider how you can give back to society, to help those who are in need and less fortunate than yourselves."
Christel's mother, Ms Calisa Cheong, was proud of her daughter's top N-level scores, saying they were a way to show others that her family could achieve something.
Ms Cheong, who works as a part-time waitress and cleaner, said: "This bursary helps me to reward her. It's like a gift to her because I've got nothing to give to her."
Ms Cheong, 48, added: "It is like water in the desert. The money definitely helps me to financially support my family. The vouchers can help my children to buy stationery while I save the cash for their food and other expenses."