Double award for Ngee Ann Poly student who finds time to help others despite own challenges
Ms Charleen Tan Zixuan was 15 when she was placed in a children’s home in 2018. Her parents were unable to care for her and her siblings.
A few months later, she was moved to Oldham Hall, a boarding institution for students, where she met assistant house mistresses who would change her life. Over the next five years, they helped her come to terms with her situation and to make the best of her time at Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP).
On Thursday, Ms Tan received the NP Character Award for her remarkable resilience and strength, and the Special Commendation Award for Community Service.
Despite dealing with her challenges, the 20-year-old found time to volunteer at Meet-the-People sessions and ALittleChange, a non-profit youth group that helps low-income families.
It was the help she had received that inspired her to volunteer, said Ms Tan, who graduated from the polytechnic in May.
She began her diploma in community development at NP in 2020 without financial or emotional support from her family. When schools turned to home-based learning during the Covid-19 pandemic, Ms Tan, already worried about her fees, needed a laptop she could ill afford.
NP’s financial aid office provided her with a laptop, and multiple bursaries to help cover other expenses. School counsellors gave her the emotional support she needed.
“I saw how people were able to make an impact in my life. And I had the desire to serve the community,” she said.
Another recipient of the community service award is Ms Nikol Goh Zhi Wei, 20, who also graduated in May with a diploma in community development.
She not only served as president of NP’s Compassionate Youths in Action volunteer initiative but also started a social enterprise, Real.Scent, which holds perfume workshops for the deaf-blind community to help them become perfumers.
Ms Goh said she was inspired by a 2021 Straits Times report about Ms Tan Siew Ling, a 35-year-old who lost her sight at age 11 and her hearing at 31.
“Her story really moved me, and sparked a desire to contribute meaningfully to the deaf-blind community,” said Ms Goh.
She also credited her love of community service to her mother, who encourages her to volunteer regularly.
“It started as a family-bonding activity. From then, I started to enjoy working in the community, and it made me really happy and fulfilled.”
On top of her studies and social enterprise commitments, Ms Goh was also on NP’s touch rugby team. “A lot of people ask me – where do you find time? I always tell them that there’s always enough time. As long as you are really passionate, you’d want to do something about it,” she said.
Both Ms Tan and Ms Goh will continue their studies at the National University of Singapore in August, and said they want to keep making a difference in the communities they serve.
Ms Goh plans to major in psychology, with a minor in management, as she looks to expand her social enterprise. She said: “I want to leverage the skills (I learn) in psychology, and in business, to drive the success and impact of Real.Scent.”