SINGAPORE - There isn't much anyone can tell Ms Nurul Nabilah Mohamad Fuad about grit and hard work.
It is those qualities that have allowed 22-year-old Ms Nurul to triumph over the severe physical disabilities that have confined her to a wheelchair since the age of six.
Her determination will see her graduate this year with a diploma in mobile and network services from Temasek Polytechnic. She will also receive the Ngee Ann Kongsi Most Outstanding Overcomer Award next Monday at her polytechnic's first graduation ceremony. The award goes to a student who has shown resilience in overcoming setbacks.
Ms Nurul was born with a condition called arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, a rare birth defect that affects the joints and causes difficulty in movement. It left her arms and legs almost entirely twisted around.
By her second birthday, she had endured five operations but she was still able to use only her right hand. Yet that did not stop her from trying hard in school. "Mentally, I'm okay, and I wanted to be a normal kid. I wanted to be in a mainstream school environment," said Ms Nurul, who has never gone to a school for students with special needs or disabilities.
She went to Fengshan Primary School and Changkat Changi Secondary School, learning to cope with her disability as independently as she could.
Those years were not easy, she recalled. "In primary school, there were parents of some of my classmates who asked me why I was studying there, and why I wasn't in a school for disabled students." But such comments merely spurred her on to work harder.
Another blow came when her parents divorced in her second year of polytechnic. She now lives with her older brother and her mother in a Yishun flat.
"I was very sad and affected. I wanted to drop out of school but my mum encouraged me to continue studying. She said education is very important. She is my best friend and my pillar of support," she said of her mother, a freelance masseuse and her family's sole breadwinner.
"Winning the award is great, but I'm glad I was able to overcome the hardships. I'm looking forward to starting life afresh," added Ms Nurul, whose grade point average is 2.9.
She has a job offer from tech giant IBM as an IT coordinator and is waiting to hear from one of the local universities after applying for a place.
Fellow polytechnic student Jared Kang, 20, has also done well, becoming the first law and management graduate with a perfect GPA of 4.
His decision to switch from junior college to polytechnic has paid off as he is one of the first two students from his course to be offered a Public Service Commission (PSC) scholarship.
"JC wasn't my cup of tea as I wasn't interested in subjects like physics, economics and mathematics," he said, adding: "In poly, it was more independent learning."
Mr Kang, who has an older brother and whose parents are both teachers, will apply to read law at Cambridge University this year.
This article was first published on May 21, 2014.
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