Veena Bharwani
Sun, Mar 09, 2008
The New Paper
Son makes her cry with pain, then joy

IT broke Madam Zuraidah Jaffar Tan's heart when her son dropped out of junior college three years ago.

Azri Imran Tan had become an angry, rebellious boy.

But a mother's love knows no bounds.

Madam Zuraidah put up with her son's outbursts, stood by him, and even gave up her high-flying career for him.

Eventually, Azri came to his senses and decided to go back to school.

But it seemed he had lost his chance, as door after door was slammed in his face. He approached seven JCs, but not one would take him in because of his poor track record.

That is, until he knocked on the door of Mrs Tan-Kek Lee Yong, the principal of Pioneer Junior college (PJC). She took him in.

With his mother and his new principal guiding him, Azri got his act together.

Yesterday, he became the top Arts student in his JC after scoring four distinctions in the A levels.

Azri attributes his amazing turnaround to his mother and principal.

'If not for them, I'd have been a drug addict or something,' Azri, who turns 20 today, told The New Paper.

Azri's problems started when he entered JC.

By right, he should have been a happy boy with a bright future. He scored 12 points in his O levels and made it to one of the top JCs.

But, he said, his classmates looked down on him because he came from a neighbourhood school.

Madam Zuraidah said: 'He was bullied constantly and nicknamed 'neighbourhood boy'.'

Feeling ostracised, Azri, the oldest of three siblings, started skipping school once a week. His grades plunged and he started failing.

Dejected, he wanted to drop out of school. He was also diagnosed with diabetes at 16.

He would yell at his parents all the time and his tantrums sometimes reduced his mother to tears.

But she was patient with him.

She said: 'I knew it wasn't the real him. It was (outside) circumstances causing him to act in that manner.'

To spend more time with him, she quit her job as the vice-president of a publishing house. She was drawing a comfortable five-figure salary. Even when her son wanted to drop out of school in May 2005, Madam Zuraidah tried to be understanding.

'I didn't want to push him and lose him totally, so I let him be. He needed some time away,' she said.

After he left school, Azri worked as a part-time telemarketer. But he soon realised he was just running away from his problems.

He didn't hate school in general, just the JC he was attending because of the incessant teasing.

So, Azri decided to look for another JC that would take him in.

But seven JCs turned him away, until he called PJC and spoke to MrsTan-Kek.


In January 2006, he joined PJC. This time, he was happy. Azri said: 'No one treated me differently. MrsTan made sure of that. She took the time to get to know the real me.'

Mrs Tan-Kek said: 'I believe in giving all my students a chance to work through their issues and to prove themselves.'

Aware of his diabetes, she would let him go home to rest and then go back to school again on long school days. She and his mother also kept in touch to make sure he was coping well in school.

Azri no longer lashed out at people. His grades improved.

Madam Zuraidah said: 'You have to believe in your children that they will pull through.'

And Azri appreciates all that his mother has done.

When she walked in into Mrs Tan-Kek's office yesterday, Azri told her tearfully: 'Ma, this is for you'.

And Madam Zuraidah also cried. But this time it was tears of joy.

This article was first published in The New Paper on Mar 8, 2008

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