ST Generation Grit award goes to trio who are an inspiration to others

Mr Wong Zi Heng, 27, was paralysed after a freak accident. Social worker Zulayqha Zulkifli, 24, was once a homeless teen. Mr Thomas Liao, 32, was a drug trafficker who turned his life around. All three have been honoured for their inspiring stories.
The Straits Times Generation Grit Award 2018 winners (from second from left) Thomas Liao, Zulayqha Zulkifli and Wong Zi Heng with Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran at the award ceremony yesterday. With them are Swiss Re's Singapo
The Straits Times Generation Grit Award 2018 winners (from second from left) Thomas Liao, Zulayqha Zulkifli and Wong Zi Heng with Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran at the award ceremony yesterday. With them are Swiss Re's Singapore country president Victor Kuk (at far left) and Straits Times editor Warren Fernandez. Ms Zulayqha was homeless as a teen but overcame challenges and will soon graduate with a bachelor's degree in social work. Mr Liao is a former drug trafficker who turned his life around to help others. And Mr Wong, who became paralysed in an accident in university, persevered to become a teacher.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

They are picked from 24 featured in column on millennials who overcame adversities with grit

He became paralysed after a freak diving accident in his first year of university, but Mr Wong Zi Heng, 27, never wallowed in self-pity and persevered to become a teacher.

Ms Zulayqha Zulkifli, 24, was homeless for many months, yet she was determined to become a social worker, and will soon graduate with a bachelor's degree in social work.

Once a drug trafficker who did "many wicked things", Mr Thomas Liao, 32, turned his life around in jail and is now helping families as a senior social work associate.

For inspiring others with their resilience and heart for the community, the trio were honoured yesterday with the inaugural The Straits Times Generation Grit Award 2018, presented by re-insurance company Swiss Re.

Mr Wong, Ms Zulayqha and Mr Liao were picked from 24 nominees who were featured in The Straits Times' fortnightly column, Generation Grit, from December 2017, when it started, to last December.

The winners were picked by a panel of judges comprising ST editors and representatives from Swiss Re. The public's votes for their favourite stories were also considered in the judging.

The column features millennials in their 20s to mid-30s who demonstrate extraordinary grit and courage in overcoming adversities - from poverty and troubled family backgrounds to sudden disabilities.

Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran, who attended the awards ceremony held at The Pod in the National Library Building, said millennials are often thought of as the entitled and less resilient children of an era of plenty, yet this is not a fair or accurate picture and there is much evidence to the contrary.

"In you and your life stories, we see the promise of the future, of individuals with the courage, conviction and determination to overcome adversity, persevere and realise your life dream," he said.

Mr Iswaran presented the awards to the winners, along with Straits Times editor Warren Fernandez, whoheads the English/Malay/ Tamil Media Group of Singapore Press Holdings, as well as Mr Victor Kuk, Swiss Re's Singapore country president.

The three winners each received $5,000 and a trophy.

Mr Fernandez said the heartwarming stories in the Generation Grit column have gained a strong following among ST readers.

This is especially so among the younger generation, he said, noting that those aged between 18 and 35 make up about half of the audience on ST's digital platforms. The features have frequently topped ST's charts of the best-read stories and videos.

"These are stories about the millennials, for the millennials, and we are happy that it is resonating among them because we want to continue serving Singaporeans, including young Singaporeans, for many years to come," he added.

The three winners talked about their experiences in a session with ST senior social affairs correspondent Theresa Tan.

 

Mr Wong, a teacher at Bedok South Secondary School, said he hopes the stories remind people to be grateful for what they have in life. People are often caught up with what they do not have, and neglect what they do have, he said.

Mr Liao, a senior social work associate at Fei Yue Community Services, said there are many others who also deserve accolades for helping the community, and he is thankful for the many unsung heroes who have helped him.

While Mr Liao and Mr Wong have no plans yet for their prize money, Ms Zulayqha, a social work associate at the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore, plans to help fund her brother's studies with the cash gift.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 07, 2019, with the headline 'ST Generation Grit award goes to trio who are an inspiration to others'. Print Edition | Subscribe