Boys pick themselves up from tragedy to become mentors

Boys pick themselves up from tragedy to become mentors

Picture above: Mr Jonathan Ng (left) and Mr Sarethkumar Kunasilan each survived personal tragedy to become mentors and role models.

Both had to deal with the loss of a parent. But they picked themselves up, determined to overcome the odds.

Last Thursday, Mr Jonathan Ng, 20, and Mr Sarethkumar Kunasilan, 25, received the Stars of Shine Award at the Shine Festival's closing ceremony.

The annual award, given out by the National Youth Council, honours inspirational youth who have given back to society.

And these two men have certainly done that.

Mr Ng was 13 when his mother contracted colon cancer.

"While she battled with it, I battled with myself," said Mr Ng, who is serving his national service. He fell with bad company and picked up vices like smoking and drinking.

But later, in the span of three days, everything changed.

In 2008, his friend committed suicide.

And two days after that, his mother died.

Said Mr Ng: "It was really tough, but it was also a wake-up call. I stopped hanging out with those friends, got rid of my bad habits and tried to live positively."

But a year later, another roadblock popped up.

A few weeks before his N-level examinations, he dislocated his right knee.

After recovering from the injury, he was hospitalised again. It was then that he found out he had been diagnosed with kidney failure.

He said: "I was upset. I was trying to get my life back on track and this happened."

He spent one week in the hospital and it was during this time that he thought about his mother.

"One thing she taught me was to be strong. Remembering how she went through her chemotherapy sessions really encouraged me," he said.

Since then, Mr Ng's knee and kidney have recovered. He has also joined the Health Promotion Board as an anti-smoking ambassador.

He said: "Life is really short. It's important to live it to the fullest." Mr Sarethkumar would agree.

He was 15 when his father died of a heart attack.

Very depressed

He said: "It was a year before my O levels, and I was very depressed. I didn't want to go to school. I just wanted to sit at home and stone (slang for do nothing)."

His mother was worried seeing him in that situation, and asked him to join a recreational football club at the Hougang Sheng Hong Family Service Centre.

That was where Mr Sarethkumar met his coach, MrAli, who became a father figure to him.

"He really inspired me. I just needed someone to push me and that was what he did," he said.

"He would book a room at the centre and invite my friends and me to study there."

Mr Sarethkumar joined Ngee Ann Polytechnic after his O levels and started excelling in his studies.

He said: "When my father passed away, what shocked me was that people can die at any time."

That his mother was diabetic scared him as well.

Said Mr Sarethkumar: "Who would take care of me and my younger brother if something happened?

"I needed to be independent. That sense of duty made me realise I had to do the best I could."

Towards the end of his first year, he was awarded a scholarship under the Association of Singapore Marine Industries.

After graduating from polytechnic and completing his national service, he joined Singapore Technologies Marine to serve his three-year bond.

Having completed the bond, he will study Naval Architecture in Singapore Institute of Technology come September.

In his free time, Mr Sarethkumar mentors teens at the Singapore Indian Development Association. He started in February and he takes them for outdoor activities and talks to them about their lives. He said: "I've always wanted to do this, to help others like how Mr Ali helped me."

Rounding off this year's recipients is Mr Colin Wan, 31, the director of yo-yo company Spinworkx.

Fascinated by the alternative sport since he was a teen, Mr Wan took charge of Spinworkx - a small interest group that he and his friends had formed in 2003 - after graduating from the university, and turned it into a full-fledged yo-yo company, one of the biggest in Asia.

The company has been going to schools and conducting workshops and outreach programmes.

Said Mr Wan: "It was challenging in the beginning, but it's very satisfactory to see youths having such a good time and winning titles.

"I'm glad I had the chance to reach out to them through this sport."

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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