The ca ncer survivor
As bubbly Ophelia Liew puts it, if anyone taking the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) does not ace it, it “is not the end of the world”.
If one were to see the 12-year-old today with her plaited lustrous hair, the thought that this St Anthony’s Canossian Primary School girl used to be bald as she battled leukaemia would never have crossed one’s mind.
“My mum kept telling me to be a survivor and not be a victim of leukaemia,” she said.Leukaemia is a group of cancers which often starts in the bone marrow.
At the tender age of six, Ophelia had to undergo chemotherapy.
“When I went to school, my friends teased me in Primary 1 because I didn’t have hair. They thought I was different from them. They didn’t understand until my teacher explained to them that I had cancer,” said Ophelia, as she flashed her pearlie whites.
Special attention had to be given to her throughout her primary school life.
“We still have to watch her. That’s why sometimes in class when I see her look tired, I get a bit concerned”, shared Ophelia’s form teacher, Mrs Agnes Lim.
Throughout the interview on Nov 21, she sat beside Ophelia.
However, Ophelia never faltered as she studied hard to prepare for the PSLE.
“Even on the days she was not doing well or tired, she pushed herself to come to school,” said Mrs Lim.
In the end, her perseverance and hard work paid off as she has earned a place in the Express Stream.
“She’s a very resilient girl. She doesn’t just give up like that,” said Mrs Lim.
Ophelia’s success could not have been achieved without the support of her parents. They were behind her all the way, giving her that added boost for her to do well, even though sometimes, she would throw “a tantrum” while under stress, said Ophelia.
If the exam question is hard, ‘just try your best’
When CatholicNews spoke to 13-year-old Athena Han from the Canossian School for the hearing impaired, she exuded much confidence.
But before Athena entered primary school, her father, Andrew, told CatholicNews, that she was a completely different girl.
“She didn’t really speak much before, but now, she talks a lot and has a lot of confidence,” said Mr Han.
During the interview, Athena also gave this piece of advice to all students, and it is not just for those who will have to sit for the PSLE:
“No matter how hard the [exam] question may be, just try your best. Maybe if you try, you might get some method marks. It’s better than not trying.”
Preparing for the exam was a little tough for Athena, as Maths was not her forte.
“Some Maths problem sums are really hard,” she said. But Athena tried her best to stay focused during lessons.
She also made it a point to set aside extra time for homework and revision. This was even though she lived in Jurong West which is far from her holding school at Circuit Road.
“In school when we have lessons, I must concentrate more because I live very far away and it takes longer for me to get home. When I reach home, I do my homework and revision,” said Athena.
“Her homework always comes first the moment she steps home,” shared Athena’s mother, Jacqueline.
“She’s very disciplined. There’s no need to tell her what to do,” Mr Han added.
With homework piling up just before PSLE, Athena also sacrificed her sports time.
“I love to do sports but when PSLE was coming, I had to prepare. There was more homework, so I didn’t have much free time to play sports,” she said.
When asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, after some thought, Athena said that she hopes to be a PE teacher one day.
The boy who couldn’t speak English
Imagine coming to Singapore at the age of seven and not being able to speak a word of English. To top it off, imagine having to suffer partial deafness and retinal dystrophy or really poor eyesight.
Even though 13-year-old Sithu Win faces these challenges, the Myanmar school boy brushed them aside and earned stellar grades for his PSLE.
“I feel that my hard work paid off,” said Sithu confidently, a former student of the Canossian School for the hearing impaired.
At the tender age of three, Sithu had mumps, which caused him to lose his sense of hearing. Even now, he still has trouble picking up high frequency sounds.
His mother, Dr Htet Htet Kyaw, 43, shared with CatholicNews that after he had mumps, his loss of hearing also affected his speech.
Sithu’s parents tried desperately to get his ears tested in Myanmar, but hearing tests for children were unavailable then. Hoping for a better future for their children, Dr Kyaw and her husband, along with their two children – Sithu and his sister, Aye Chan Myat Mon who has delayed speech – left for Singapore in July 2008.
From Primary 1 until Primary 6 and just before PSLE, Sithu “tried to catch up”, he said.
To help him, Sithu’s parents signed him up for many tuition lessons.
But as teachers started giving more school homework before PSLE, the tuition work felt overwhelming.
“I had so much tuition homework,” said Sithu.
So how did Sithu stay focused throughout his primary school years? Simple: will power and discipline.
“He wants to read the books and he wants to study, so it’s lucky for me,” said Dr Kyaw, beaming.
Sithu shared that he dreams of becoming a doctor and saving lives, just like his mother.