A Prince Among Men

Mohamad Rahman bin Iman Hussein may only be 21, but beneath that wiry frame lies a character built on strength and determination to succeed despite an impoverished background.

Mohamad Rahman bin Iman Hussein

MEETING Mohamad Rahman bin Iman Hussein, known fondly as Prince, the recipient of the Jeffrey Cheah Foundation - Monash Equity Scholarship, one could not possibly imagine the hardships he faced growing up in impoverished conditions.

Exuding self-confidence and an outgoing personality, the lanky 21-year-old Prince counts himself blessed to be able to pursue his dream of furthering his studies at Monash University Malaysia. Born in Penang in 1995, Prince spent his early childhood living in a shipping container at a construction site  with his family because they could not afford to stay elsewhere.

“It was extremely hot during the day but very cold at nights. Behind the row of containers where we lived, there was a pond where my father and I would fish for food. We didn’t have to go to the market for fish because we would catch our dinner and cook it,” he says proudly.

As Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, Prince’s parents had to work hard to make ends meet for their five children, and knew that education was the key to breaking their cycle of poverty.

Despite having a stable job as a contractor, Prince’s father decided to move the family to Kuala Lumpur in search of better education opportunities for their children. The first year in KL was a tough transition for the family, as jobs were hard to come by.

“My father was jobless for a year and we had to rely on friends for help. When my parents got a job at a nut factory in Segambut, they worked double shifts, up to 17 hours a day just so they could provide for us,” he says.

Rising Above Discrimination

Even at a young age, Prince understood what it meant to be discriminated against– he was constantly bullied at his religious school for being dark skinned.

“They would call me ‘keling’ and not let me join in any of their games. But my parents always told me that challenges are to be expected, especially since they were refugees,” he says.

From left: Professor Helen Bartlett, Mohamad Rahman and Ong Pang Yen

His life took a turn for the better when he enrolled into Harvest Centre (currently known as Dignity for Children Foundation) in 2006. The non-profit organisation started providing tuition classes for underprivileged and refugee children in Sentul in 1999.

Under the tutelage of his teachers – mostly American volunteers from the US – Prince, who barely spoke a word of English when he joined Dignity at 11 years of age, mastered and spoke the language fluently in two years.

“I never would have imagined being part of an English-speaking community as I grew up with mostly Indian and Malay boys in my neighbourhood. I struggled in the first few years but eventually, I learnt by listening and watching people’s body language as they spoke. Dignity [for Children Foundation]  was truly my platform of opportunities. It really moulded me as a person,” he says.

It was also at Dignity for Children Foundation where Prince developed self-confidence and honed his public speaking skills, as he was given many opportunities to emcee events and perform in front of large audiences.

Upon completing his Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) as a private candidate, Prince took a gap year to teach the underprivileged children in his community. “I figured that if I could be transformed through education, why can’t I touch their lives through teaching? The children were just as  lost as I was,” he says. In addition to teaching needy children for free, he also taught Mathematics and Additional Mathematics to other students for pocket money.

An Unexpected Journey

A year later, he signed up for the year long South Australian Matriculation (SAM) program at Taylor’s College. Subsequently, Prince set his sights on enrolling into Monash University Malaysia. Once again, he doubted his chances of being admitted into the Bachelor of Business and Commerce program  – especially when he saw the tuition fees for the three-year course.

At that time, Prince was helping his father collect scrap metal and old car batteries to resell for income. His father had injured his back, so he could not take on his usual odd jobs as an electrician, blacksmith, plumber and contractor, while his mother could only earn so much from the small food  stall outside their rented house.

Seeing his predicament, Prince’s mentor and co-founder of Dignity, Petrina Shee advised him to apply for scholarships online. Taking a chance, Prince applied for the Jeffrey Cheah Foundation - Monash Equity Scholarship. As Monash University Malaysia is jointly owned and governed by the Jeffrey  Cheah Foundation, and Monash University, this was a natural first port of call in his search for scholarships.

Just three days before the Orientation Day, he was called for an interview with the Scholarship Board. “As one of the 15 candidates shortlisted for the scholarship, I was so nervous before my turn. But when the four members of the Board asked me to tell them about my background, I felt relieved  and just answered them. I don’t usually share my story with others apart from those I trust, but the scholarship was something I really wanted so I did not hesitate,” he says.

Mohamad Rahman and his proud parents, alongside Prof Bartlett and Ong Pang Yen during the Scholarships and Awards Ceremony 2016

Four days before the program commenced, Prince received an unexpected call from Monash University Malaysia – he had been selected as the recipient of the Jeffrey Cheah Foundation - Monash Equity Scholarship for the February 2016 intake, in line with the Jeffrey Cheah Foundation - Monash Equity  Scholarship’s commitment to enriching lives of all deserving through quality education, regardless of background.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I expect that I could be a student at Monash. For me, it was like being given the chance to study in Harvard. This opportunity proves that no matter what race or financial background you are from, you can achieve your dreams if you want it badly. You just need to  seize the opportunity,” he says, adding that he is thankful to his mentors for having faith in him.

When asked about his future plans at Monash Malaysia, Prince says he will likely pursue Marketing as his major, as he loves interacting with people. “I also want to do some volunteering on campus but I think that’s about it for now, as I better focus on my studies as I’m on scholarship,”  he says with a smile.

The Jeffrey Cheah Foundation - Monash Equity Scholarship is awarded to financially deserving students. The scholarship covers 100% tuition fees, together with a stipend of RM700 per month with accommodation at Sunway Monash Residence or a stipend of RM1,300 per month without accommodation.