SINGAPORE - Growing up in a single-parent family, Mr Edward Dassan Rajanderan, 26, had to learn to be financially self-reliant while studying.
To take care of his transport and food expenses during his polytechnic and university years, he worked part-time as a waiter at banquets.
Inspired by his three older brothers who were similarly self-reliant and made it to university, Mr Edward managed to balance his work and studies to eventually pursue mechanical design and manufacturing engineering at the Singapore Institute of Technology.
He received a mid-term scholarship at the university, and after graduating last year, he is now a manufacturing engineer at a semiconductor company.
Mr Edward was one of around 750 students and university graduates who received the Sinda Excellence Awards on Saturday (Sept 11), the largest cohort of recipients in the award's 30-year run.
The self-help group's awards are given to those who have done well in their academic studies, or sports and art endeavours.
The recipients on Saturday ranged from pupils who received good results in the Primary School Leaving Examination to university graduates with bachelor's degrees.
The awardees received between $150 and $500. Held annually since 1992, the awards have honoured more than 8,000 students over the years.
More students this year qualified for the awards across various categories. For instance, there were 123 PSLE recipients this year, the largest number in five years.
Speaking at the hybrid award ceremony on Saturday, Second Minister for Finance and National Development Indranee Rajah said the Indian community's academic performance "is on a very positive, upward trend".
She cited the recently released population census, which reported that 67.4 per cent of Indian Singaporeans hold a diploma, degree or other post-secondary qualifications, up from 59.3 per cent a decade ago.
Congratulating the award recipients on Saturday, Ms Indranee, who is also Sinda's president, said: "This achievement... is also testament to your dedication and resilience in what has been an incredibly challenging period over the past two years."
She added: "As a community, we must and will continue to build upon this positive growth to ensure that everyone, especially the students who come from less-advantaged backgrounds, are strongly supported in their pursuits and ambitions."
The award ceremony at the Civil Service Club @ Tessensohn was also attended by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong, and Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for Social Policies Tharman Shanmugaratnam.
Other recipients included a junior college student with a genetic bleeding disorder who was hospitalised several times over the years, but continued to persevere with the help of teachers and peers.
One of the oldest recipients this year was 36-year-old Nathan Jolene, a mother of two who returned to school after a decade to obtain her diploma in nursing.
The valedictorian at the ceremony this year was 26-year-old Yarlagadda Sai Surya, a three-time Sinda Excellence Award recipient, who first received the award for doing well in his GCE O-level exams.
He is now an entrepreneur who supports various sustainability projects here and elsewhere in the region.
While busy studying economics and mechanical engineering at the National University of Singapore (NUS), Mr Surya founded two start-ups - Young Sustainable Impact Southeast Asia (YSI SEA) and Interseed.
YSI SEA is a sustainability incubator that helps infant start-ups and young people in the region realise sustainability solutions - in areas such as food security and renewable energy.
Over the years, his incubator has helped to support 27 start-ups, including one in the Philippines that creates solar-powered lamps using plastic bottles for rural communities.
Growing up in South India, Mr Surya had experienced frequent water shortages and electricity disruptions, and that influenced him to enter the sustainability sector.
On the challenges behind developing his start-ups, the recent NUS graduate said: "There were definitely uncertainties involved in running regional programmes, or pitching to investors and companies for funding.
"But having a strong belief (in the causes) and an open mindset to learning were what led me to look at these challenges as opportunities to make a positive difference."