Sunday, December 25, 2011

He scores against all odds

HE WAS at home when the police found drugs under the mattress that he shared with his drug distributor dad and drug addict mum.

Muhammad Zulkarnaen Abdul Razak, who was in Primary 4 then, broke down in tears.

Both his parents are now in jail for drug-related offences.

You would expect a small boy with such giant odds stacked against him to do badly in school.

And for a time, he did.

While staying with his step-brother, whose care he was placed in, Zulkarnaen spent his days sleeping and playing.

But two things eventually jolted him to his senses - his poor grades in his Primary 4 exams and a visit to his mother in jail.

Said Zulkarnaen, now 12: "When I visited my mother in prison, she asked me to study hard so that I would be able to take care of her when she's released.

"I didn't want to let her down since she cared so much for me in the past."

And he did not.

Zulkarnaen, who is from Northland Primary School in Yishun, pulled through his Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) with an aggregate score of 159.

He scored a Grade 1 in Foundation Malay, Foundation Mathematics and Foundation Science, and a Grade 2 in Foundation English.

With his results, Zulkarnaen could choose to study either in the Normal (Academic) or the Normal (Technical) stream.

He has applied to the Normal Technical stream at Naval Base Secondary School.

His form teacher, Mr Ganesan Arumugan, 37, praised his achievement.

Said Mr Ganesan: "Zulkarnaen is very intelligent. He was just not focused."

Zulkarnaen's step-brother, Mr Abdul Rashid Rahim, 25, told The New Paper that their mother is in jail for five years, while his father is imprisoned for 10 years.

Their parents were arrested below the block of the family's five-room flat in Yishun in 2009, he said.

Recalled Zulkarnaen: "I was upstairs when the police came...I shared a bed with my parents, and they found drugs hidden under the mattress.

"I was so shocked, I ran to another room to cry.

"Before my mother was led away, she told me: 'Don't worry. I'll come back one day. Don't forget about me.'"

After his parents' arrest, Zulkarnaen was placed in Mr Abdul Rashid's care. The two share the same mother.

The former food stall helper, who is now unemployed, is married to a housewife and has two sons, aged three and one.

He said: "I used to work all day and found it hard to even spend time with my own children."

He said that he quit his job a few months back as it was too stressful.

"I'm not rich and can't afford tuition. I'm also not educated and can't help Zulkarnaen with his homework," added Mr Abdul Rashid.

So the boy was left largely to himself.

And for a while, he spent his free time sleeping and playing at home.

The turning point came only at the end of 2009, when he did poorly in his Primary 4 end-of-year exams and was placed in the Foundation stream.

Zulkarnaen said: "I woke up. I realised that my parents weren't around to take care of me any more.

"There was nobody to spoil me and I really had to help myself. It was then that I started doing my own homework properly

Wanted to please them

Zulkarnaen said he missed his parents, and after his visit to his mother in jail, he wanted to please them by doing better at school.

He also credits his turnaround to his form teacher.

Said Zulkarnaen: "Mr Ganesan would encourage me by buying me a McDonald's meal every time I achieved a perfect score for spelling.

"He also bought me pencils, pens, correction tape and a protractor so that I could use them in my studies."

And Zulkarnaen's hard work paid off.

He passed most of his subjects in Primary 5, and all of them in Primary 6.

He also won an award in June for topping the level in Foundation Malay.

He has not yet been able to visit his parents to tell them his results, but he said: "I'm very excited to let them know."

Mr Zaqy Mohamed, MP for Chua Chu Kang GRC, told TNP: "This is a young person who has overcome the odds. His story shows that we can't give up as a community. The opportunity is always there if we work hard for it.

"I'd be happy to garner support to ensure that he has the peace of mind to study despite his parent's absence."

Benson Ang | The New Paper | Sun Dec 4 2011

Mr Ganesan, who is also the school's head of pupil development, said he is proud of Zulkarnaen for picking himself up.

"I believe he can do even better in the future," he said.

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