Once bullied, she now lectures on beauty therapy
Bullied in school, beauty therapy lecturer now helps students grow their confidence
This National Day, we celebrate with 16 stories of people who overcame adversity to give back to society. Read their stories and watch the videos at tnp.sg/ndp2016
When she was 11, Shuner Villanueva Leong was told, for the first time in her life, that she was ugly.
"The group of girls I usually hung out with (in school), and whom I thought were my real friends, told me so," the 26-year-old recalled.
They also teased her relentlessly about her mixed parentage - her mother is Filipino and her father, Chinese Singaporean.
"They would call me 'Filipino maid' and made me carry their bags and stuff. I didn't know any better then, so I did as I was told," she said, adding that she did not feel good about it.
"I didn't tell anyone about the bullying then, not even my parents. I just kept it bottled up inside."
Her already low self-esteem took a nosedive and so did her studies.
She was in the EM3 stream, where primary school pupils do foundation English, basic mother tongue and foundation mathematics. These pupils also take foundation science, but are not tested on it.
Mother tongue was her bugbear and every year, she would get a failing mark for Chinese.
"We speak mainly English at home. Even my Tagalog was (at the level of) how a child would speak it.
"But by some miracle, I got passing marks for Chinese in both PSLE (Primary School Leaving Examination) and N levels and managed to make it to the next level of education," she said with a laugh.
It was only after Miss Leong entered the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) that she found her calling.
"I've always loved nail art and loved the way my mum does her nails, so when I found out that the ITE offers a beauty therapy course, I wanted to (get in) so badly," she said.
Miss Leong went to the interview with her nails immaculately done to impress.
"But the lecturers told me that should I get into the course, I would need to keep my nails short so as not to accidentally scratch anyone," she said.
It was at ITE that Miss Leong finally shone.
"My lecturers were very nurturing and it was here that I found that I love to make people beautiful," she said.
She did so well in WorldSkills Singapore, sponsored by Tote Board, that she was picked to take part in the WorldSkills Competition, a biennial competition where hundreds of young people from around the world showcase their skills in various crafts and measure themselves against international standards.
These include beauty therapy, graphic design, health and social care, and mobile robotics.
Miss Leong won two gold medals between 2009 and 2011, and had a chance to do a one-and-a-half-year diploma course in beauty therapy at the Box Hill Institute in Melbourne.
She was working in the spa at Shangri-La Hotel Singapore when she was asked if she would like to return to ITE College East as a lecturer.
"I had to take a slight pay cut to do so. At the time, my father had just lost his job so I was in two minds (whether to accept), but my parents felt I should return," she said.
Miss Leong, who became a lecturer in beauty therapy in 2014, said helping to inspire and change the mindsets and attitudes of those with low confidence makes teaching fulfilling.
"I was there. I know. It was a tough journey where there was plenty of tears, but when you see the young ones win competitions, it's all worth it," she said.
"I’ve always loved nail art and loved the way my mum does her nails, so when I found out that the ITE offers a beauty therapy course, I wanted to (get in) so badly." — Shuner Villanueva Leong
TNP SPIRIT OF 16 GIVINGBACK
The beneficiary is Singapore Children’s Society