Homeless after his parents’ divorce in 2011, Zulhaqem Zulkifli and his three younger siblings slept at the void deck for several months.
Throughout the trying period, his younger brother and sisters constantly turned to him for support.
Zulhaqem’s responsibility in caring for his family kept him going, shaping him to become one of only 93 Public Service Commission (PSC) scholars across Singapore this year.
While their void deck accommodation was temporary, the siblings’ living situation continued to be uncertain as time passed.
They stayed with their mother, an administrative assistant at a hospital, at an interim HDB flat, for a few years.
Sadly, a stroke forced her to move out, so the siblings moved into a two-room rental flat with their father, Mr Zulkifli.
Mr Zulkifli had found a job as a cleaner, but didn’t have enough for their family of five to get by.
To lighten his father’s burden, Zulhaqem would join in scavenging through dumpsters for metal or cardboard pieces to sell for extra income.
Zulhaqem became so tanned from the many hours under the sun that his peers thought he was from a sports CCA.
On top of selling dumpster scraps, Zulhaqem also worked part-time as a bookstore assistant, among other odd jobs.
His love for books often saw him spending hours at the library too, poring over pages upon pages of information.
He explained how books are a valuable resource as well as an avenue for escape, in an interview with The Straits Times:
If you don’t have a lot in life, you turn to books. Through books you can gain knowledge and they are also an outlet for escape.
His father’s reminder to read widely in order to learn more keeps Mr Zulhaqem curious, as he continuously seeks to discover something new.
Despite his difficult background, Mr Zulhaqem found time to do volunteer work, as an active member of Engaging Hearts for the past nine years.
The group visits families living in rental flats to help them with their needs and simply interact with them.
Mr Zulhaqem also volunteers as a para-counsellor with the Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association.
His commitment towards helping the less fortunate inspired his father to suggest applying for the PSC scholarship, which he did, to much success.
Coming from the Normal Academic (NA) stream at Gan Eng Seng School, to Millennia Institute and Nanyang Technological University (NTU), he has really come a long way.
The scholarship will fund Mr Zulhaqem’s Masters of Philosophy course at the University of Oxford in September, where he’ll focus on Buddhist Studies.
After everything he went through, Mr Zulhaqem hopes that he can one day rally support for single fathers like his own.
His father’s pearls of wisdom have certainly played a big role in guiding him to his current success, like the words that will always stay in his memory:
Now you suffer, so next time you make sure other people don’t go through this suffering.
Reminders like this keep Mr Zulhaqem humble on his road to success, as he never forgets his roots and to help those in need.
Featured image from Berita Harian.
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