Poverty no barrier to academic success for two Sarawakian students

Mohd Aznil (left) and Danny prove that overcoming barriers to achievement is possible.

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KUCHING, Nov 3: Poor family background, unstable Internet connectivity and outdated gadgets are not barriers to success for two bright Sarawak students to excel in their studies.

Mohd Aznil Ali, 18, from Kampung Hilir, Kuala Matu had to miss three months of online classes before the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination in February this year because of the unstable Internet access at his village in the Matu district in central Sarawak.

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

Mohd Aznil (second right) with his family during Hari Raya Aidilfitri in 2017.

Despite the odds, Mohd Aznil scored 9As in SPM. He received scholarship offers from Petroliam Nasional Berhad (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).

“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 in his footsteps and become as successful,” he said.

As a child, Mohd 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.”

Mohd Aznil’s father Ali Madi, 56, worked as a labourer while his mother Umi Kalthum Abdul Kadir, 49, is a housewife.

Despite hardships, both Ali and Umi never prevented their son from getting the opportunity to learn.

“They sacrificed whatever little they have 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 motivates me to do well,” Mohd Aznil said.

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

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

Meanwhile, Danny Alister Joseph, 18, from Desa Senadin, Miri, 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 mother, Helen Rantai, 48, a clerk, were forced to take pay cuts as the companies they work 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.

Danny (left) with his family during Hari Gawai in 2019.

Currently, Danny is undergoing the university’s foundation programme before pursuing his degree in mechanical engineering.

“I want to be an engineer in the mechanical field and to one day 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 lift up their quality of life,” said Danny.

Danny (right) with his classmate at academy award ceremony at SM Sains Miri in 2018.

Mohd Aznil and Danny were among the 51 Sarawak students selected to be part of the Petronas Education Sponsorship Programme (PESP) 2021.

This year, Petronas has 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 and Trading) as well as Environmental Science which supports Petronas’ cleaner energy and sustainability agenda.

Since 1975, Petronas had 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 of America. — DayakDaily