SIT fund helps needy undergrads tide over Covid-19 fallout

(From far left) Singapore Institute of Technology students Nur Syazwan Syamsuddin, Sathiya Soorian and Vanessa Chia received help from their school's student relief fund. Nearly $1.5 million has been raised for the fund through donations. ST PHOTO: K
(From far left) Singapore Institute of Technology students Nur Syazwan Syamsuddin, Sathiya Soorian and Vanessa Chia received help from their school's student relief fund.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

Undergraduate Nur Syazwan Syamsuddin's life hit a rough patch in April when his parents tested positive for Covid-19.

To make matters worse, Mr Syazwan, 23, contracted the coronavirus too.

Then, his mother lost her teaching job at a pre-school which closed down while she was in hospital.

To make ends meet, he and his two younger siblings pitched in to help, with Mr Syazwan, a second-year student at the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT), signing up as a GrabFood delivery rider.

Last month, he received $2,000 from SIT's student relief fund, which helped ease the burden of paying for household bills and groceries on his father, a Customs officer.

Mr Syazwan is among more than 450 SIT students who have received help from the fund, set up earlier this year to help students whose families have been hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Nearly $1.5 million has been raised for the fund through donations, and it is being disbursed to more students. Each student gets up to $2,000 to cover living and other necessary expenses.

Mr Syazwan, who is studying computer science in real-time interactive simulation, said: "My mum has been very worried about finances.

"She wants to find a job but is unable to do so, as she's still recovering." She is still feeling weak after being discharged from hospital, where she spent 20 days in the intensive care unit due to breathing difficulties, he added.

SIT brought forward by two months to April its window for students to apply for financial aid, due to the Covid-19 situation.

It has since received more than 3,800 applications for bursaries, scholarships and grants, including the relief fund. This is up by nearly 10 per cent compared with the previous academic year.

SIT has about 8,000 students.

Its president Tan Thiam Soon said the university is "extremely grateful" for "this very timely support from the community".

"For many (students), the pandemic has led to a loss of employment and income within the family," he said.

"Having more donors step forward to help would certainly alleviate the financial burden faced by these students (and their families), so they can better focus on their studies."

SIT third-year hospitality business student Vanessa Chia received $2,000 from the fund, after her parents' incomes nearly dried up during the pandemic.

Her father had to stop work as a taxi driver after testing positive for Covid-19 in April and was hospitalised for 11/2 months. He recently signed up as a Grab driver.

Her mother, a hairstylist, was put on unpaid leave for a few months before returning to work in June, after the circuit breaker was lifted.

Ms Chia, 23, said she tried looking for a part-time job but was unable to find one that suited her timetable.

The SIT funds, she added, helped to cover part of her personal expenses, such as phone bills and food.

She said: "(With the financial help), I won't have to pester my parents for an allowance.

"They're still coping better than a lot of other people I know, but the job situation was a bit stressful for everyone."

The past few months were also tough for second-year nursing student Sathiya Soorian's family.

His mother, a hotel receptionist, had to take a pay cut of more than 50 per cent from April.

His father was hospitalised twice in the past few months and underwent operations for his diabetic condition. He has since stopped work as a taxi driver and is undergoing rehabilitation.

Mr Soorian, 26, received $1,500 from the relief fund, which helped pay for food and phone bills.

"I'm still careful with my expenditure, but at least my parents don't have to worry so much about me," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 16, 2020, with the headline 'SIT fund helps needy undergrads tide over Covid-19 fallout'. Print Edition | Subscribe