She overcomes challenges with ADHD and dyslexia to win award

Sec 5 student with ADHD and dyslexia used to think she was 'stupid and dumb'

AWARD-WINNER: Nicole Marlene Ruth Nonis, 16, was diagnosed with ADHD when she was in Primary 3.

When she was in primary school, she regularly went home with bad grades, no matter how hard she tried.

Words and letters "shook like crazy" to her and she had difficulty copying things off the board as she could not focus.

Said Nicole Marlene Ruth Nonis, 16: "I thought I was stupid and dumb and that I was just not as good as my friends. I had horrible confidence and my morale was really low."

Nicole has dyslexia - a reading disorder - and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the most common mental health condition among children here. 

It took her years to accept her conditions and to overcome them to excel in her studies - an achievement that made her the champion winner of the Ace Teen Award last Thursday.

The Ace awards are given to children and teens with ADHD, and to coaches and mentors who have made a difference to their students.

To Nicole, the award is an affirmation of how far she has come since her diagnosis in Primary 3.

"Then, I didn't really understand... I just thought, this is me. It's just a label," said the Secondary 5 student at Northbrooks Secondary.

As she learnt more about her condition, she became aware of how different she was from her peers.

"I realised I didn't fit in. I was trying my best to (fit in)... I felt that (telling people about my ADHD) would create barriers. I just wasn't open about it," she said, adding that she cried every day.

She discovered she had dyslexia in secondary school and learnt to cope with it, sometimes even by joking about it. It helped that her friends did not see her differently.

Today, she is vice-chairman of her class. She is also active in community work and has a passion for drama and children.

Nicole's achievements are a sign of how she has blossomed, said her mother Valerie Nonis, 42.

Mrs Nonis, a secretary at an international school, said she realised something was up when her daughter came home with results that did not match the amount of work she had put in.

"The Internet was my best friend at that time because I started doing a lot of research... In those days, (ADHD) wasn't very well known," she said.

Nicole's condition has also changed Madam Nonis' take on parenting.

"It made me re-examine what's essential... At the end of the day, it's this child (who is important).

"It's not so much about academics... (It's about) whether she made that effort, if she is happy, and if she feels her efforts did not go to waste.

"And I realised, different is good," she added with a smile.

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Family's Singapore dreams in tatters after Vietnam man killed here

Vietnamese dishwasher killed here supported two sons, seven siblings and elderly mother back home

IN DEBT: Madam Bui Thi Thu Ha said her husband borrowed about US$8,000 (S$11,000) to pay the agent, travel and administrative fees to work in Singapore.

He came here from Vietnam with a dream: to give his family back home a better life.

With his $1,000 a month salary as a dishwasher, Mr Phan Duc Thang, 32, would remit $700 to his wife for the upkeep of his family, which included two young sons, seven siblings and an elderly mother.

But that dream ended on May 21 when Mr Phan died of head injuries following an altercation with another man.

His death has devastated his family.

Not only are they in grief and shock, they have also lost their main breadwinner and are saddled with what is, by their standards, a mountain of debt.

Soon after flying in from Vietnam last Friday evening, his wife, Madam Bui Thi Thu Ha, 32, told The New Paper in Mandarin: "Our whole family was depending on him. He was everything to us."

The frail-looking Madam Bui, who works in a glove factory back home, added: "What are we going to do now? We don't know how to even begin to move on."

Mr Phan's brothers arrived last week to collect Mr Phan's body and do the funeral rites, which undertaker Roland Tay helped to arrange for free.

Speaking between occasional pauses to compose herself, Madam Bui said her husband, the seventh of eight siblings, was from a village in Nghe An province in northern Vietnam.

The couple married 14 years ago and have two sons, aged 13, and 10 months.

Making ends meet every month was tough, she said, especially when jobs in the countryside earned them just over S$100 a month.

So they looked for better prospects overseas.

About five years ago, the couple went to Taiwan to work as dishwashers. That was where they learnt Mandarin.

"But the money we earned there was not enough. So we did illegal jobs on the side," she said.

One of the jobs was looking after elderly patients at a hospital.

Their Taiwan stint ended after three years, in 2014, when the authorities caught them moonlighting at the hospital.

They were immediately repatriated to Vietnam, where Mr Phan resumed doing odd jobs.

Madam Bui found a job at a glove factory, earning about US$100 (S$140) a month.

Last year, Mr Phan decided to come to Singapore to work.

To get here, he borrowed about US$8,000 to pay the agent, travel and administrative fees, said Madam Bui.

She said: "I would have travelled here with him, but we have two sons. The younger one is just 10 months old, too young to travel.

"I didn't want my husband to come here alone, but his mind was made up.

"He was always very responsible towards the family. Too responsible. He did not want me to help shoulder his burden."

After arriving here in December last year, Mr Phan worked as a dishwasher at a coffee shop in Marsiling.

He sent back most of his salary, keeping only about $300 for his personal expenses, she said.

PHONE CALLS

Said Madam Bui: "He would also call home every day and tell me how he was. I would tell him to save on the phone bills, but he wouldn't listen."

The last time she heard her husband's voice was on the day of the incident.

"He called home to ask if I had finished work and how were the children. And then no word from him for the next three days," she said.

She grew worried and tried contacting some of his friends through phone calls and Facebook.

But it was only three days later, on Tuesday last week, that she heard about her husband's death.

TNP understands that Mr Phan suffered serious head injuries, including bleeding in his brain. He died in hospital.

"All I remember was crying until I passed out," said Madam Bui on her reaction to the horrible news.

Her mother-in-law, 75, had the same reaction.

Madam Bui said: "I told my older son what happened. He's been crying non-stop and asking for his father."

Mr Tay, founder of Direct Funeral Services, paid for the Phans' plane tickets and accommodation in Singapore.

Mr Tay said: "I was very sad when I heard what happened. When his wife told me they didn't have enough money to fly over, I felt I had to help them.

"I just did my best to help them through this difficult period."

Madam Bui said the family is at a loss over what to do.

As tears welled up in her eyes, she said: "We just want to bring my husband home.

"Of course, we are worried. We still have US$6,000 of my husband's bank loan to pay off. We don't know what is going to happen next."

The man involved in the incident was charged in court last Monday with voluntarily causing grievous hurt.

He called home to ask if I had finished work and how were the children. And then no word from him for the next three days.

- Madam Bui, who found out about her husband's death three days after it happened

I didn't want my husband to come here alone but his mind was made up. He was always very responsible towards the family. Too responsible. He did not want me to help shoulder his burden.

- Madam Bui Thi Thu Ha, who married Mr Phan Duc Thang14 years ago

They're pop stars, not history experts

These days, it's not good enough if an entertainer has a pretty face, hot bod, wicked dance moves and sweet vocals.

K-pop stars face unrealistic sky-high expectations from netizens who seem to want their idols to be history experts too.

Earlier this month, Jimin and Seolhyun from sexy K-pop girl group AOA were slammed when they failed to identify the late An Jung-geun, a famous South Korean independence activist and national hero who was executed by the Japanese, on their TV show Channel AOA.

Last Sunday, the image of Seolhyun, one of Korea's tourism ambassadors, was removed from the Visit Korea Committee's official website.

To legions of keyboard warriors, their mistake was a travesty.

Some labelled the duo "stupid", "embarrassing" and the "nation's idiots", while others deliberately fanned fierce patriotic flames and criticised them as "dumb pro-Japanese".

APOLOGISED

During AOA's live showcase last week to promote their new mini album Good Luck, Jimin, 25, and Seolhyun, 21, cried and apologised on stage, their heads bowed in sorrow.

SORRY: YouTube screengrabs of K-pop girl group AOA's Jimin and Seolhyun crying as they apologised for not recognising a national hero.

It pains me to see these usually cheerful girls looking so sad, like they had their life force sucked out of them.

Yes, they may be cultural ambassadors of the Hallyu wave, but at the same time, they are also ordinary human beings who would by now have chucked their secondary school history textbooks aside.

Besides, both Jimin and Seolhyun graduated from high schools that focus on music and the arts - which explains their passion for showbiz - and they've never professed to be book smart.

One of my favourite US novelists, the Pulitzer Prize-nominated and critically-acclaimed Jonathan Franzen, went on long-running TV quiz show Jeopardy! recently and, quite hilariously, flubbed questions related to William Shakespeare.

Sure, Franzen needs to brush up on his knowledge of the Bard, but his gaffes sure didn't diminish my admiration of his writing.

So if you're going to ditch your love for AOA because of Jimin and Seolhyun's boo-boos, then don't call yourself a true fan.

SORRY: YouTube screengrabs of K-pop girl group AOA's Jimin and Seolhyun crying as they apologised for not recognising a national hero.

'It's the little things that add to your Zouk experience'

When he first joined Zouk at 23, it made his friends envious.

"You're working at Zouk? That is awesome, it must be so fun," Mr Rexx Lim, now 40, recalls his friends telling him.

"They used to ask me what it is like to be able to see hot women every day at work," he laughs.

Mr Lim, who has been with Zouk for 18 years, is one of the longest serving staff of the Zouk management team.

The popular home-grown club celebrated its 25th anniversary last night with a big party at its Jiak Kim Street premises.

The Silver Jubilee, featuring shimmery decor at the club's different dance floors in Zouk, Phuture and Velvet Underground, was the last anniversary party for the nightclub at the warehouse venue.

It will move to a new home in Clarke Quay later this year.

Mr Lim, who works as a technical manager in the maintenance team specialising in audio and visual lightings, says: "I can't believe we are celebrating 25 years. Time really flies when you're having fun."

He adds: "The pressure of working in the scene of partygoers is quite stressful.

"My job is to ensure that everything is working well but when it breaks down, all eyes are on you to fix it as soon as possible.

"Nobody wants his night interrupted by anything that can potentially spoil the fun."

Five years ago, Mr Lim was in the spotlight for the wrong reasons.

"The music and the visual effects suddenly shut off at about 1am and everyone started to jeer.

"All eyes were on me to get it fixed. Imagine being in that position, it was tough and definitely extremely pressurising.

"I had to stay calm for the 10 minutes in order to solve the problem, and I managed to do it in the end, but it felt like the longest 10 minutes of my life," he says.

"The moment the music and visual lighting came back on, everyone just went back to party mode but the relief I felt was just indescribable," he exclaims.

Mr Lim, a father of a four-year-old boy and a six-year-old girl, says: "In the 18 years I've been with Zouk, I've seen the party scene change.

"But the one thing that has remained the same is that Zouk tends to be the place youngsters choose to let loose at, I am sure my son and daughter will be one of these partygoers one day too."

The one thing, he says, that hasn't changed is the service that Zouk aims to provide - a good time.

"We want every one of our customers to come here and have fun.

"The smallest things, even my job of creating the dance mood, are overlooked most of the time but it is the little things that we hope will add to a person's Zouk experience.

"If I ever do leave this place, I will most definitely miss it."

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