A student may have lost his life, but the way he lived serves as an inspiration to others.
I was walking back to my staff room after giving lessons to a Form One class in January last year. As I passed by, I noticed a boy sitting alone and reading a book.
Curious as to why he was alone as I wanted to make sure he wasn’t skipping class, I asked him where his classmates were. He answered, “Sir, I’ve doctor’s permission to be excused from P.E. (Physical Education). My classmates are in the field.”
He sounded weak. As teachers, we have encountered students who are excused from physical activity due to health reasons.
Every week, as I passed by the same class, the boy would be there. Sometimes, I would ask him how he was faring in his studies, since he was in Form Five that year and facing his final exams.
It was much later that I found out the boy had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and was on medication. There were some weeks when I walked by the class and he would not be there. I was told that he was at the hospital undergoing medical treatment.
But whenever I did see him, he was always busy reading, writing or diligently doing his school work. I learnt from my colleagues that he was a hardworking student. Some days, I saw him with his head resting on the desk, with his work done by his side. Probably he was tired and having a nap. I would also see him walking slowly to the library with his supportive classmates tagging along at his speed.
One day I noticed that he had started wearing a face mask to protect himself as his immune system was getting weaker.
A few months before school ended, the boy was nowhere to be seen. He had been hospitalised as his condition had worsened. It was already October, and the school was busy rehearsing for prize-giving day. I was delighted to know that he was receiving a prize for excelling in some subjects. But he was not around for the rehearsals as he was going through his treatment at the hospital.
We thought he would miss the ceremony due to his deteriorating condition. But to the delight of everyone, he turned up to receive his prize on that day, walking very slowly to the stage. It was a proud moment for him and everyone who knew him. Puan Ruby, the teacher in charge of the prize winners that day, was more than happy to accommodate him and put him right in front of the queue for the prize winners.
Soon SPM started and the boy had to do his exam in bed at the hospital. Though it was a real struggle for him, he completed it just like how he did all his work at school.
In February this year, I received news that the boy had passed away peacefully at home.
The teachers were all very sad, especially all those who taught and knew him. Puan Hasniyah, his art teacher, who is my colleague and buddy whom I knew from during my teachers’ training college days, truly admired the boy’s spirit of not giving up. She was very affected by the demise of the boy. A good number of teachers went for his funeral. When the SPM results were announced in March, it turned out the boy had scored 6As and the parents came to collect his results. Puan Hasniyah was in the hall to see the boy’s parents, who were very grateful to all the teachers who had been a great support for the boy.
The school hall was abuzz with students coming to collect their results. While everybody was feeling jubilant in the hall, I went to my car and wept. I felt so proud of this boy’s achievements, despite all that he had to face, and was sad that he was not around to get his results.
It’s amazing when you realise how big your task is when it comes to nurturing young minds. Not only do we impart knowledge, we also form relationships with the students. When students score in their exams, teachers feel even more elated than the students themselves.
Likewise, when they are down, we feel even worse than they do. Some of the relationships that have been formed end up being lifelong friendships while others don’t go beyond the duration of their school years.
As for the boy, I felt he had been a great teacher to me, in that he taught me not to give up. He might have lost his life but not his spirit. He had inspired me.
I looked at my watch and knew my lesson with the Form One students was about to start soon. As I entered the class that day, I started my lesson with, “All of us have our role models. As we go along in our lives, we find new role models to inspire us. I would like to share a new role model in my life. He taught me to never give up. He was a student here at Penang Free School and his name is Muhammad Helmi …”