Dancing through adversity: Student of the Year Awards recognise strength in face of hardship

Daisy Kwok Hiu-ming and Mohamed Afser Sultan Basha up for best improvement awards for their success in overcoming health and relocation challenges

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 February, 2017, 5:57pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 February, 2017, 9:40pm

Born with a narrow windpipe and oesophagus, and a weak small intestine, long periods in hospital were commonplace for Daisy Kwok Hiu-ming in her childhood. She frequently suffered from health problems including pneumonia and choking on food, and had to undergo several operations.

But Daisy learned how to use the challenges life had handed her to spur achievement.

“Because my health was not good when I was younger, I could not keep up with school work,” Daisy, who is now 16, recalls.

“I even missed school for one or two months. I felt very discouraged.”

Things began to turn around for the pupil of Hong Kong Red Cross Princess Alexandra School, which teaches youngsters with special educational needs, towards the end of her primary education.

Under the guidance of Kat Yu, the school’s occupational therapist and dance instructor, Daisy, now a Form Four student, gradually became an accomplished contemporary dancer – a learning experience which recently culminated in her choreographing her own performance.

She finds it hard to breathe when there is a change of weather. She also has a small opening in her small intestine, through which she has to inject fluid to help it move food.

“If I get sicker, I will not be able to dance. So while I am feeling better I want to work harder at dancing. I will not give up,” she says.

It is that indomitable spirit that has made her one of the nominees in the best improvement category for the Student of the Year Awards, organised by the South China Morning Post and sponsored by the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

Mohamed Afser Sultan Basha, while blessed with better health, has faced a very different set of challenges. Born into an affluent family in the Indian city of Chennai, he led a comfortable life in the first 12 years of his upbringing, spending time having fun and hanging out with friends.

All that was shattered however when political upheavals in 2009 forced him and his father, who worked for a political party, plus his three siblings, to flee to Hong Kong.

Mohamed found his life turned upside down, and went from living in a big house with his own room to a tiny flat in Yuen Long, which was all the family could afford with a housing allowance of HK$1,500 per person from the government.

He also had to pick up Cantonese from scratch when he first arrived and entered school at the Primary Five level, and he struggled with English having not learned much back in his hometown.

He says his grades ranged from around 30 to 40 out of 100 back then.

But a turning point came around Form Two in secondary school.

“My class teacher, Mr Lam Wai-keung, would talk about my results in front of the class,” he recalls.

He says he felt embarrassed and did not like the teacher because of it.

But slowly, Mohamed realised his teacher had done so due to a strong belief that he could do better.

He is now studying hard for the Diploma of Secondary Education exams to obtain a place at a local university, to realise his dream of entering the police force back in Chennai, as it becomes safer for his family to return.

Mohamed is also up for an award in the best improvement category in recognition of his achievements building a new life in Hong Kong.

He has also done more than 400 hours of volunteering work in the last year.

“It’s about giving back what I get,” he says. “I had a good life back in India, but if I hadn’t moved to Hong Kong, I wouldn’t be the person I am now.”

The awards ceremony will be held on February 25 at the Kowloon Shangri-La hotel.

Scarlette Leung, executive director for corporate planning, communications and membership at the Jockey Club and also a judge for the awards, said she was impressed by the compassion and respect all the candidates had shown for people in need. She was also glad to see many had used their talents, such as in music and writing, to help others.