As a primary school pupil, he was bullied and had his pocket money snatched from him.
For solace, he turned to his school's garden, where he learnt to appreciate insects and greenery.
It was an experience that led Mohammad Adam Shah Asri, 18, to take up the green cause.
Yesterday he was among six students given the HSBC/NYAA (National Youth Achievement Award) Youth Environmental Award.
The second-year student at ITE College West was president of his school's Green Ambassador Club from 2014 to last year and still continues as the club's adviser. His achievements include leading school projects to cut food waste and enhance biodiversity.
Fellow winner Yasmin Sim Su Hui, 15, is the youngest to win the award. She is in Secondary 4 in Bukit View Secondary School.
The award citation lauded her initiatives, such as helping to set up a butterfly garden in her school and leading a water-rationing exercise.
The six winners received their awards from Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli and HSBC Singapore chief executive Guy Harvey-Samuel.
The annual HSBC/NYAA award was launched in 1998 to recognise young people aged 14 to 25 for their green contributions here. It comes with a $500 book voucher and HSBC-sponsored participation in an expedition by international non-profit environmental research group Earthwatch Institute.
NYAA Council chairman Leo Tan, pointing out the importance of looking beyond Singapore, said that what happens in one place on earth affects other places, citing examples of forest fires in Indonesia and changes in the Arctic.
At the award ceremony, Mr Harvey-Samuel presented a $100,000 cheque to Prof Tan to renew the bank's commitment to supporting NYAA programmes.