For the past 10 years in his primary and secondary school days, Aqil Nasran Shah Nizam Shah's typical meal during recess has been either a chicken bao (steamed bun) or siew mai (steamed dumpling).
And those were the good days. Some days, he did not eat till dinner time - all to save money for his parents who were facing financial difficulties due to medical issues.
Aqil has even been "earning" money for the family. Every year, since he was in Primary 1, he has received at least one award for good grades or leadership, such as the Edusave Merit Bursary and the Edusave Character Award.
Both awards are worth at least $200 at the Primary 1 level.
Yesterday, the 16-year-old was one of around 24,000 students who returned to their secondary schools to collect their O-level results.
The Xinmin Secondary School student has already secured a place at Temasek Polytechnic through the Early Admissions Exercise, an aptitude-based admissions exercise that allows students to apply for and receive conditional offers for admission to polytechnics before receiving their final grades.
Aqil, who scored 11 points, will be pursuing a diploma in early childhood development and education.
He told reporters yesterday that his interest in teaching was piqued when he started tutoring his younger sister, who is now 15.
Aqil, who also has two older siblings, said: "None of us went for any tuition classes because we couldn't afford it. When I was younger, whenever I learnt something new in school, I would be excited to go home and teach my sister."
Skipping meals has had some adverse effects on his health. Once, when he was in Secondary 3, he collapsed during assembly and had to be sent to the sick bay.
"Usually, I would drink water to make myself full and I would be okay. When I fell sick that day, my ex-form teacher came to see me in the sick bay and that was when I told her about my family's financial situation. Every week from then on, she would buy me bread to make sure I didn't go hungry," he said.
Some of his classmates also offered to buy him meals, he added.
His mother is a cashier at a supermarket. His father, Mr Nizam Shah Abdul Hamid, 54, currently works as a Grab driver due to his ill health.
He has chronic diabetes, asthma and heart problems. The ailments forced him to leave his previous job in interior design.
Aqil's younger sister also has severe asthma and is periodically hospitalised. This adds further pressure on the family's finances.
Although Aqil's older brother, who is 25, and his 22-year-old sister have been helping after they started working about two years ago, the family still has unpaid hospital bills of about $4,000.
His brother is a pre-school teacher and his sister is an assistant engineer.
The family remains close-knit despite their troubles, Mr Nizam said. "We have financial problems, but it has not broken my family. I'm blessed."
Ms Ng Lee Hua, Aqil's geography teacher, said he was an attentive and eager student despite being constantly worried about his family. "He submitted every piece of work and even attended remedial lessons that were optional. I'm proud to see how much he has grown," she said.