President's Scholar overcomes adversity in early life to emerge stronger

President Scholarship recipients (from left) Andrew Lau, Govindan Solai Valli, Eugene Chua and Elizabeth Ng. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - President's Scholar Elizabeth Ng was 11 years old when her mother fell at home and became paralysed from the neck down. Doctors said she would not be able to walk again and likely be bedridden for life.

"She had a severe spinal cord injury... and she lost all sensation and the ability to move her body," said Ms Ng, who in her teenage years took over all the household chores and nursed her mother when she was ill, with help from her grandparents and church. Her father and elder brother do not live with them.

Against all odds, with therapy and persistence, her mother started to walk again but at a much slower pace than before.

Now 19, Ms Ng is one of this year's four recipients of the President's Scholarship, the most prestigious award given out by the Public Service Commission (PSC). From Hwa Chong Institution, she will be heading to the London School of Economics and Political Science in Britain next month to read international social and public policy.

The others are: Officer Cadet Govindan Solai Valli, 19, from Anglo-Chinese Junior College, Mr Eugene Chua, and Mr Andrew Lau - both 21 and from Raffles Institution.

Ms Solai, whose father is a general manager and mother an information technology professional, will be the first President's Scholar to study international relations and organisations at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

Mr Chua, whose father is an engineer and mother a sales assistant, will study history at Harvard University.

Mr Lau, an only child, will pursue a double degree in economics and English at Yale University. His father is a semi-retired sole proprietor dealing in engineering processes and design and his mother is a retired executive assistant.

On Thursday (Aug 11), they received their scholarship awards from President Halimah Yacob at the Istana.

In her address, Madam Halimah said the scholarship holders have a responsibility to lead and galvanise different sectors of society to respond to the challenges that lie ahead. She said: "You will need to develop the skills to lead while making sure that differing views and concerns of our people are considered and heard."

Ms Ng, who will join the foreign service after her university studies, said her mother's accident shaped her thinking and made her more independent and frugal.

They live in a four-room Housing Board flat in Redhill, and she did not go for tuition. Bursaries covered her school fees in secondary school and junior college after her mother, who has since found a job as a data administrator, had to stop working.

"I thank God for my challenges because they have opened my eyes to the different challenges that people from other walks of life face, especially people with disabilities and their caregivers," said the former Nanyang Girls' High student.

The other woman scholarship recipient, Ms Solai, has been drawn to the armed forces ever since she was in the softball team at Tanjong Katong Girls' School. The Singapore Armed Forces scholarship holder attended engagement programmes by the Ministry of Defence and enlisted in January.

Through her university studies, Ms Solai, who has an older brother, hopes to learn how to approach defence issues through the lens of subjects like economics and diplomacy. "Growing up in Singapore, I've always been able to see how lucky I am to be safe and secure and I think the SAF plays a very big part in providing that security," she said.

Mr Chua, who will be flying off next week to study history on the PSC Scholarship (Teaching Service), said a grasp of the humanities is just as important as mastery of other fields such as data science, as it equips one with skills in analysis and communication.

As a teenager, he began tutoring less privileged children at Ang Mo Kio Family Service Centre. "That experience was very formative (and solidified) why I wanted to become a teacher - to be able to interact with students and mentor them, and help them love learning a bit more," said Mr Chua who has a younger sister. 

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