Succeeding against all odds

Aznil is currently undergoing the foundation programme before pursuing chemical engineering degree at UTP

KUCHING: Poverty as well as unstable internet connectivity did  not stop two bright Sarawakian students from excelling in their studies.

Due to the poor internet connectivity, Mohd Aznil Ali, 18, from Kampung Hilir, Kuala Matu missed three months of online classes before his Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination in February.

“As a result, I was falling behind in my studies and I felt anxious and agitated as I needed to study twice as hard as others to catch up” Aznil recalled.

For three months, he relied solely on his textbooks and lecture notes for revision. Fortunately, he was still able to use messaging apps to stay connected with his teachers and friends.

Despite the odds, Aznil scored 9As in SPM. He received scholarship offers from Petronas, Sarawak Energy Berhad, Tenaga Nasional Bhd as well as Majlis Amanah Rakyat.

But he decided to choose Petronas’ education sponsorship and pursue a chemical engineering degree at Universiti Teknologi Petronas (UTP).

Aznil (right) and his friend at SM Sains Kuching Utara

“I was ecstatic when I received the offer from Petronas because this is exactly what I had aimed for. It’s my lifelong dream to work with Petronas someday.

“I also have a deep admiration for Petronas’ president Tengku Muhammad Taufik. I wish to follow his footsteps and become successful,” he said.

As a child, Aznil enjoyed fishing and swimming in the river with his friends.

“There was no internet connectivity in our village. Even if there was, I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy it as we didn’t have mobile phones or computers back then. All we had at home was an old television set. We could not afford the luxury of a modern lifestyle,” he shared.

His father, Ali Madi, 56, works as a labourer while his mother Umi Kalthum Abdul Kadir, 49, is a housewife.

Despite the hardships, both Ali and Umi never stopped their son from studying.

“They sacrificed whatever little they had to support my studies because they realised it was the only way for their children to escape poverty and find a better future. My parents put high hopes in me and that motivate me to do well,” Aznil said.

Aznil attended his primary school at SK Kuala Matu.

He scored straight As in his Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) exam in 2015 and in 2016, he was selected to study at the prestigious Sekolah Menengah Sains Kuching Utara under the Yayasan Peneraju Pendidikan Bumiputera scholarship.

Meanwhile, Danny Alister Joseph, 18, from Desa Senadin, Miri, shared that he had to make do with an old laptop for his online classes before his SPM exam.

“I used a decade-old laptop that my parents bought for us back in 2012 to attend online classes. I shared it with my 14-year-old brother Dayrell Axcel. Usually, my laptop would freeze or lag while I was in the middle of doing important tasks.

“Sometimes, it randomly switched off on its own and took a long time to restart. This made me feel distressed and frustrated. When the problem persisted, I had to borrow my mother’s phone to check on my homework or attend classes,” he added.

Danny said his parents were struggling to put food on the table. His father, Joseph Bakak, 47, a bus driver and his mother, Helen Rantai, 48,   a clerk, were forced to take pay cuts as the companies they worked for were impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Despite his family’s financial difficulties, Danny managed to score 9As in his SPM examination and won the Petronas Education Sponsorship to pursue his foundation studies and engineering degree at UTP. Currently, Danny is undergoing the university’s foundation programme before pursuing his degree in mechanical engineering.

“One day, I want to be an engineer in the mechanical field and work for any leading company in Malaysia. I might also start my own business and become an entrepreneur.

“Coming from a low-income family, this sponsorship means a lot to me. I am grateful to be given this opportunity and it will definitely ease my parents’ financial burden. My dream is to provide for my family and uplift their quality of life,” said Danny.

Aznil and Danny were among the 51 Sarawak students selected for the Petronas Education Sponsorship Programme (PESP) 2021.

This year, Petronas allocated more than RM120 million to sponsor 301 students nationwide to pursue their tertiary education locally and internationally in various academic disciplines, including Biochemistry, Business Administration (Marketing & Trading) as well as Environmental Science which supports Petronas’ cleaner energy and sustainability agenda.

Since 1975, Petronas has spent more than RM3.3 billion to sponsor more than 37,000 Malaysians to pursue higher education at leading local universities as well as top institutions in Australia, Canada, China, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.

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