Four inspiring millennials get Generation Grit award

Featured in ST series last year, they touched the hearts of many for showing courage and grit while battling various adversities

The winners of The Straits Times Generation Grit Award 2019 are (clockwise from top left) Ms Melissa Chan, Ms Law Mei Ting, Mr B. Kanesh and Mr Asher Low.
The winners of The Straits Times Generation Grit Award 2019 are (clockwise from top left) Ms Melissa Chan, Ms Law Mei Ting, Mr B. Kanesh and Mr Asher Low.ST PHOTOS: TIMOTHY DAVID, KEVIN LIM, ALPHONSUS CHERN, ARIFFIN JAMAR

Four millennials who have overcome various adversities in their lives - ranging from sexual abuse and cancer to mental health issues and taking up caregiver duties at 14 - and shown remarkable courage and resilience are the recipients of The Straits Times Generation Grit Award 2019.

The award, now in its second year, is organised by ST and sponsored by reinsurance firm Swiss Re.

Each recipient will receive $5,000 and a trophy. In the light of the Covid-19 situation and circuit breaker measures, there will be no award ceremony.

The four whose stories have touched the hearts of many and inspired others are, in no order of merit, Ms Melissa Chan, 29, Ms Law Mei Ting, 26, Mr B. Kanesh, 28, and Mr Asher Low, 32.

From age 14, Ms Chan spent years taking care of her father, who had young onset dementia. After his death, she went on to found Project We Forgot, a social enterprise to support young caregivers.

Expressing gratitude for the award, Ms Chan said: "This is a nice recognition of our work but it doesn't stop here. There's a lot more that needs to be done and our work is evolving based on the needs on the ground."

The $5,000 award money will be channelled into Project We Forgot to help it continue running and explore new initiatives, she said.

She added: "Dementia is a big problem globally, and especially in Singapore, given our ageing population. It takes a concerted effort from multiple parties to tackle it."

Ms Law was molested repeatedly by her mother's boyfriend when she was just three years old.

After years of struggling with shame and anger, she plucked up the courage to share her story and talk about her past with ST in its Generation Grit series.

"I'm quite shocked that I won, as there are many inspiring stories out there. I'm really thankful and I hope the story will continue to inspire others, especially women, to stand up and be brave if they have experienced any abuse," said Ms Law.

She plans to save the money for the future, as she is currently completing her degree in business management and is looking for a job.

"The Covid-19 pandemic has struck many of us suddenly. I think it's important to be prepared for rainy days like this and to hang in there during tough times," she said.

 
 

For Mr Kanesh, the award motivates him to continue his fight against cancer. He is currently battling a recurring tumour that surfaced in his last year of university, having previously conquered his first bout of cancer when he was 11.

He said: "I now have a bigger responsibility to motivate and represent others who might be in any form of difficult situation."

He stressed the importance of appreciating life, especially amid the coronavirus outbreak. He has been in "quarantine" for a long time, as chemotherapy treatment meant he had to stay home when his blood counts were low. He viewed this as a chance to "appreciate the time given to spend with family".

He added that the prize money will help to cover his medical expenses, as he is set to start on a more expensive proton therapy treatment.

For Mr Low, the prize money has come just in time. He and his wife are expecting their second child, a boy, in July.

 
 

Mr Low had struggled with body image problems for years before learning to deal with his inner demons. He now runs a charity, Limitless, which he founded in 2016 to help youth with mental health issues.

"I'm honoured that the judges and readers saw value in my story and the work that I'm doing," he said.

The money will help him and his family to tide through this period, and allow him to devote more attention to Limitless, said Mr Low, who added that he draws only 20 to 25 per cent of his salary on most months as the charity's finances have not stabilised.

The four winners were among 21 nominees featured in ST's fortnightly Generation Grit series last year. They were selected by a panel of judges from ST and Swiss Re, who took into account a two-week public vote that saw 1,815 votes.

The judges also recommended presenting a fourth award this year, up from the original three, given the impressive contributions of many of the nominees.

Mr Warren Fernandez, ST editor and editor-in-chief of Singapore Press Holdings' English/Malay/Tamil Media Group, said: "These are tough times for everyone, something which our four Gen Grit award winners are no stranger to.

 
 

"They have shown tremendous grit and resilience to come through their challenges, emotional, physical or financial. They show us all the power of the human spirit, to triumph in the face of adversity. In these tough times, we can draw inspiration from their stories."

Swiss Re Asia chief executive officer Russell Higginbotham said: "These recipients have shown us that resilience is in all of us, and scars are more than just flesh wounds reminding us of the bad things that have happened to us. They have shown us that being resilient is a huge part of living your best life, and we could not be more proud to be associated with them and the awards."

He added: "These millennials are a great example for all of us to follow and set the standard for picking yourself up every time you fall."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 06, 2020, with the headline 'Four inspiring millennials get ST Generation Grit award'. Subscribe