NUS student with kidney failure graduates with honours, pursuing social work to help others ‘in pain’
- Despite being hospitalised twice in his last semester, NUS student Abu Ubaidah Eliase was able to graduate from his studies
- He was diagnosed with kidney failure in 2019
- Abu will receive his bachelor degree in social sciences with honours in social work on July 7
- He said he learnt from his illness that pain is not a competition
- He will begin work as a social worker in a Family Service Centre in August
SINGAPORE — The Covid-19 pandemic turned out to be a form of “divine help” for Mr Abu Ubaidah Eliase, a 25-year-old Singaporean who was diagnosed with kidney failure at the end of his first year of university studies, because the subsequent shift to online learning allowed him to attend lessons remotely.
He was hospitalised twice during his last semester, with each stay lasting almost a week. He also spent five days at a healthcare facility in the Singapore Expo after he tested positive for Covid-19.
Speaking to TODAY, he said: “I would tune into online lectures from the hospital... Though it was a bit difficult to participate sometimes when I was getting poked by needles and all, but I still managed to do it.
"And whenever things get overwhelming, I would tell myself to take things ‘one step at a time’ and 'breath by breath’.”
Mr Abu will graduate from the National University of Singapore (NUS) on Thursday (July 7) with a Bachelor of Social Sciences with Honours (Highest Distinction) in Social Work. His second major is in sociology.
He now feels that a “huge weight has been lifted” from his shoulders, knowing that he has made it through university, with support from the varsity, teachers and friends.
The third of six children, his family supported him through his ill health, such as helping to set up his dialysis machine in their four-room public flat so that he can do the treatments at home, and taking time to catch up with him.
Mr Abu's condition is more or less stable at the moment while he is doing peritoneal dialysis. He will continue doing this every night for the time being. Each dialysis takes 10 hours.
He said of his family's support: "There is that sense of closeness, which means a lot especially when you're going through things. It helps to know that you are not alone."
Diagnosed with kidney failure in 2019, Mr Abu had to start undergoing dialysis during the end-of-year break of his first year at university. It was a struggle because of his hectic schedule and poor health.
Having been diagnosed two years earlier with Immunoglobulin A Nephropathy, an autoimmune disease that affects the kidneys, this did not come as a surprise to Mr Abu because he had been feeling like his condition was deteriorating.
"I was sad, of course, but I had promised myself to live as a normal student as far as possible in university, and I calmed myself a bit."
“Pain is not a competition... Just because I go through one sort of pain doesn’t invalidate the pain that someone else goes through. It also doesn’t mean that I'm stronger for going through more pain.Mr Abu Ubaidah Eliase, who has kidney failure”
Then, the sudden death of his friend in 2019, the same year he realised he had kidney failure, showed him that everyone has their own struggles. He believes that his friend died of suicide.
“Pain is not a competition... Just because I go through one sort of pain doesn’t invalidate the pain that someone else goes through. It also doesn’t mean that I'm stronger for going through more pain,” he said.
It was his capacity for empathy that drove Mr Abu to push on with his studies on social work. He added that he has always enjoyed connecting with people from a young age and wanted to be in a profession that “helps others” and “builds people up”.
When asked what he enjoys about his social work course, Mr Abu said: “The people I'm studying with tend to have a lot of passion in making the world a better place, and I relate to their stories and experiences, and often feel inspired by them.”
Dr Adelyn Lim, who taught him for a module in gender studies at NUS in 2019 and have kept in touch with him since, recalled: "He always attends class with a big smile, ready to listen and engage with his classmates."
Mr Abu will begin work as a social worker at a Family Service Centre in August. To him, this is just one step of many, and there is still much more to learn in order to become a better social worker.
However, he believes that his illness has helped him to have a more personal understanding of the hardships that people go through due to poor health. He does not make as many assumptions about people and their choices now that he understands that certain situations in life can be unpredictable.
“Basically, I think my illness has made me more open-minded, and that would help me as a social worker,” he added.
Being a creative person who enjoys poetry, singing and performing on stage, Mr Abu said that he intends to find ways to make his practice as a social worker more creative as well, once he becomes more competent on the job.
“One thing that I was very interested in knowing more of was drama therapy, which I think would be really useful for young people,” he said.
“I have a special spot for the youth because I feel like that it is the age where we really grow and find ourselves. And to have people believe in you at that age really means a lot. I had my teachers at that point, so this is like me paying it forward.”
The death of his friend also made him realise the importance of having people one could trust and talk to in times of trouble.
“I don't want people to feel alone, especially if they are going through something remotely similar to what I'm going through,” Mr Abu said.
The graduand’s care and kindness have inspired many, including his childhood friend Joseco Jsenair, who has been his friend for more than 15 years.
Miss Joseco, a 25-year-old human resource intern, said: “Abu is very giving, and I mean that in the best way possible. He's always there to give his time to listen when you've had a bad day and he's always sending little gifts just because he thinks you’d like it.
“That's the part of his character that inspires me the most: His unfailing generosity.”