SOTY 2016: Best Improvement award winners prove that hard work pays off

The stars of our final Student of the Year story tell us why hardships don’t have to prevent you from succeeding

Nicola Chan |

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The winners! (From left) Chan Ming-pui, Kwok Hiu-ming, SCMP Editor Olga Wong, Lau Lai-hin, Luk Chun and Mohamed Afser Sultan Basha.

The Student of the Year awards don’t just recognise high achievers; excellence comes in all shapes and forms, including overcoming adversity and making positive life choices. That’s why we’re ending our SOTY series with the Best Improvement category.

Four of the five winners, Kwok Hiu-ming, 17, Sultan Basha Mohamed Afser, 20, Luk Chun, 19, and Chen Ming-pui, 20, spoke to Young Post about how and why they changed their lives for the better. (Lau Lai-hin, 20, declined to be interviewed.)

Taking a sick day from school gives most people anxiety about how much work they’ll have to catch up on, but it’s something Hiu-ming has had to get used to. She frequently missed school during her primary years due to poor health, at one point undergoing a nine-hour-long oesophageal operation.

But as her health slowly improved once she began secondary school, she more than made up for lost time by throwing herself into her studies and extracurricular activities, including modern dance. She went on to win an Excellence Award at the 2011 and 2014 School Dance Festivals.

“There will always be those who encourage and support you and those you want to see you fail,” the Hong Kong Red Cross Princess Alexandra School student told YP.

“Who you choose to listen to can really affect how you see yourself,” she added. “So the only thing you can do is be completely true to yourself.”

Sultan Basha, a PAOC Ka Chi Secondary School graduate, agrees.

“Whatever you want to do, do it with passion and dedication,” he said. “Don’t look anywhere else. There will be a few distractions, but if you can be true to yourself, you’ll succeed.”

Sultan Basha is proof that hard works pays off. His dream of becoming a policeman back in India, his home country, propelled him to do something about his poor grades. He found that once he changed his attitude, his teachers and classmates were only too happy to support him.

“I’ve learned that our attitude towards life will determine life’s attitude toward us,” he explained.

Now, Sultan Basha is giving back; he is a team leader at C&NC Harmony and Volunteer Training and a volunteer with non-profit organisation Crossroads.

“Give your time, service, or knowledge to others,” Sultan Basha said. “You will be amazed by what you gain”.

Luk Chun from Buddhist Wong Wan Tin College is also an eager volunteer, but things haven’t always been that way. He rebelled at school, was disrespectful to teachers, and was frequently in trouble for fighting or smoking.

“When I felt most aimless, I met my school social worker Miss Shek. She invited me to join the volunteer team she leads,” Luk said.

Two years later, he was made president of the team.

“I’ve become much more proactive in enriching my life,” he told YP, adding that he now tries to be a role model for his team members. With volunteering, he’s finally found a sense of purpose and fulfilment.

Ming-pui, from the Society of Boys’ Centres Hui Chung Sing Memorial School, also had a difficult adolescence. Raised in a single-parent family with three sisters and a twin brother, he dreaded both school and home life. With nowhere else to turn, he turned to drugs.

“Back then, I was [confused]. I thought that being rebellious and taking drugs would make me happy,” he recalled.

Ming-pui went through schools before landing in SBC, where he finally began to reflect on his past behaviour and make some changes.

The real turning point was when his homeroom teacher introduced him to magic. He learned the tricks of the trade and began performing magic shows for children.

He also began campaigning against drug abuse. In 2012, he helped to organise the Inter-School Anti-Drug Fashion Design Competition, and in 2015, became the host of the competition.

However, his hard work nearly came undone when his twin brother was arrested.

“At that moment, I regretted not looking after my brother, and considered giving up,” he admitted.

“But I pictured the laughing faces of the children I perform magic for,”he said, and carried on.

Now, Ming-pui’s horizons are limitless. He plans to work in Australia before returning to Hong Kong to continue his social impact work.

“I’m no longer scared of the future or of going home each day,” he said. “I want to keep going to show my brother that people can change and improve, like I did.”

Edited by Charlotte Ames-Ettridge