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Moving on from
Hell's Kitchen

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What doesn't kill you makes you stronger – Jerome Sim (Class of 2021) would attest to that after surviving ‘Hell’s Kitchen’. 

While juggling the demands of a double major in Philosophy and Economics, the filial son was running a hawker store to help out with his family’s tight finances.

Recounting the arduous period during his freshman year, he said, “University life was terrible, to say the least.” 

His working hours were long and gruelling. For 12 hours a day, Jerome prepared ingredients, toiled over the hot stove and served customers. 

He barely had time to study or have enough sleep. Inevitably, his grades suffered along with his health. The fatigued student often fell sick and lost 10 kg in that year. 

Jerome’s misery finally ended in 2018. He received the NUS Alumni - Wong Ah Long Bursary, which was set up in the late NUS alumnus’ honour to help students in financial need. 


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It wasn't a magical recipe for success, but definitely, a key ingredient to alleviating his situation. 

“My family was elated and relieved,” shared Jerome. “Prior to receiving the bursary, my dad constantly urged me to quit my job because he was heartbroken to see me in the state that I was in. But I felt guilty placing the burden of my university expenses on his shoulders.”

Jerome’s mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2012. Her condition deteriorated rapidly, so his father stayed home to care for her while taking on ad hoc jobs. 

 

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Now, in his penultimate year, Jerome can finally enjoy school life guilt free. Thanks to the Bursary he received, Jerome was able to give up his hawker job and immerse himself in his studies and extra-curricular activities at his hall, Residential College 4. 

Jerome even has time to pursue his passion — philosophy. Together with like-minded hall mates, he set up RC4philo, a philosophy interest group that meets every fortnight to discuss and exchange thought-provoking ideas.

When asked about the impact the Bursary has had on his life, Jerome remarked, “The Bursary has given me the freedom to fully focus on my studies. I do not have to worry about paying for my hostel or my next meal. My grades have also improved tremendously as the stress of money no longer plagues me.”




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A Thirst For
A Better World

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What would you do if you saw a child drinking water the colour of mud in a rural village in Cambodia?

Most people would have given their own bottled water to the child, or handed him some cash.

NUS Environmental Engineering alumnus Lim Chong Tee invented a water filtration system to help not just one, but whole villages of children and their families living without access to clean water!

Together with fellow NUS alumni David Pong and Vincent Loka, Chong Tee set up a social enterprise, WateROAM, with a vision to build a world where no one has to face prolonged thirst.

WateROAM provides portable water filtration systems that are suitable for use in rural communities and disaster-relief operations. To date, these water solutions have transformed the lives of 100,000 people across 33 countries – no mean feat for a start-up that is only four years old.

While the decision to study Environmental Engineering and set up WateROAM was a direct result of his heart-wrenching experience in Cambodia, Chong Tee had harboured the entrepreneurial dream for a long time, albeit subconsciously.   

As a child, he had always been amazed by scientists and inventors. Seeing how engineers bring machines to life never failed to impress him too. “I always imagined that it would be really cool to be able to do something on my own one day,” he shared.

 

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Growing up in a big family with limited means further sharpened his creative instinct. Instead of lamenting the lack of new toys, he treasured the pre-loved ones that his mother occasionally brought home for him and his three brothers, even if they were not in working order.

“I’d usually spend some time after school trying to make them functional again, using whatever materials that were available like UHU Glue or cardboard. Most of the time, I made things worse,” he conceded, but whenever he succeeded, he would experience “immense joy”.

From “reviving” old toys, the resourceful boy graduated to creating more complex items, such as an aquarium made from materials discarded at the junk corner at the bottom of his HDB block. All this practice stood him in good stead and paved the way for the birth of WateROAM.

After enrolling in NUS, Chong Tee found himself having to juggle studies and work. Not wanting to put more financial strain on his father, he taught multiple tuition classes every week to earn his own allowance.

He was very active in school too, taking on various leadership roles such as class representative, faculty dance I/C and co-curricular activity I/C. He also put his heart into mentoring international students and gave free tuition to underprivileged children.

The NUS Donated Bursary helped to bring some balance to his university life.

“I was extremely thankful and consoled to receive the award. With the bursary, I was able to give fewer tuition classes every week, put my energy into developing both academic, technical and entrepreneurial skills, and have more time with my family on weekends.

“The bursary really meant a lot to me,” said Chong Tee.

The financial aid also addressed a concern that his parents had: that with so much on his plate, he might not have enough time to study. “The bursary really lightened my burdens,” he said. “My parents were also very grateful for that.”

Much of the precious time that the bursary afforded him was spent at Yusof Ishak House with the co-founders of WateROAM, David and Vincent, whom he met in his second year through programmes organised by the university.

 

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David was from NUS Business School and brought his marketing savvy to the table while Vincent, a fellow Engineering student, took care of the technical side of things. But what really bound the three together was their common ambition to build a world where every person has access to clean drinking water.

So in 2014, WateROAM was born. Chong Tee took on the role of Chief Marketing Officer; David became the Chief Executive Officer while Vincent served as Chief Technology Officer.

The entrepreneurial journey has not been easy. Even with numerous awards under their belt, the team still faces fresh challenges with every new humanitarian outreach effort.

Chong Tee recounted an incident in one of their earlier field trips, “One of our teammates broke his back while moving the prototype we built. Because of that, he had to undergo a surgery which really took a toll on the morale of the team.”

That was when they realised that they needed to design a system that was a lot lighter and portable to be able to reach the rural poor.

Instead of letting this get them down, the team poured their effort into creating a better product. Today, the ROAMfilterTM Plus weighs just 2.5kg and can be carried in a backpack.

WateROAM may have come a long way, but its founders are not resting on their laurels. They are constantly gathering feedback from the ground to improve their products, and also seek the support of like-minded individuals and organisations.

As Chong Tee put it, “With two billion people still lacking access to clean water worldwide, our journey has just begun.”

 

For more on Chong Tee, please watch Realising Possible.




Jerome and Chong Tee's stories are part of the 30 for 300 campaign on Giving.sg, which runs till 31 March 2021.

Each year, many students could be denied full access to the myriad of life-transforming opportunities at NUS. Just the average cost of living, excluding accommodation, can amount up to S$6,000 annually (NUS Office of Admissions).

With just 30 cents a day, every day of the year, you can help to partially cover the cost of living for these students, enabling them to harness their NUS education and become leaders of tomorrow.

You can plant a seed of hope for NUS students today.

 

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P.S.: Singapore tax residents are eligible for a tax deduction 2.5 times the gift value for gifts made by 31 December 2020.