SINGAPORE - When he was in school three years ago, Arturo Neo was called into his teacher's office. But he was not scolded for doing something wrong - instead, he was offered cash and kind words.
His Hwa Chong Institution teacher, Joseph Sim, knew that the teen - the youngest of three children in a single-parent family - was struggling financially, and wanted to help with the expenses of an upcoming overseas school trip with his own money.
He refused the gift of about US$300 (S$375) at first, but Mr Sim told him: "I'm helping you now, so you can come back and help us next time."
The incident touched Mr Neo, who was also an Education Ministry bursary recipient. It was just one of the many times he had been offered a helping hand.
Now, he will finally get the chance to pay the debt forward.
The 19-year-old was one of five young Singaporeans who were awarded the President's Scholarship this year at a ceremony at the Istana yesterday.
Mr Neo, who will read medicine at the National University of Singapore, said the scholarship will allow him to "make a positive impact on people's lives".
"As a doctor, you get to help people in a personal way by relieving emotional and physical pain," he said.
Growing up, Mr Neo was no stranger to adversity. His parents divorced when he was two, and he grew up in a three-room flat in Yishun.
Mr Neo's mother, Ng Mui Soo, 51, supported the family on her monthly income of $1,500 as a childcare teacher.
The experience taught Mr Neo to be independent and live simply, he said, adding: "I didn't want my mother to worry about my studies."
She did not have to.
Like his fellow scholarship recipients, Mr Neo juggled both community involvement projects and his studies, and managed stellar grades.
The other recipients are: Brendan Dean Zhi Min, 20; Tommy Koh Kit Shaun, 19; Lee Zi Xin, 19; and Eugene Lim Zhi Wei, 19.
At the ceremony yesterday, President Tony Tan Keng Yam congratulated the recipients and told them to exercise "integrity, courage and commitment".
"As public servants, you must engage the public constructively...hear the voices of our citizens and keep an open mind to the increasingly diverse views that Singaporeans hold," he said.
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