Published on 29 Jun 2022

Gifts that soothe the soul

Songbird and graduating student Handayani Indah from the School of Humanities persevered through personal loss and years of hardship to get to where she is today. She tells us her story and how bursaries helped during her time at NTU.

By Jasmine Tiong

"Sing yourself to sleep if you're the only one who knows what's in your mind,” sang Indah in her first single Alice, which was released on Spotify in early 2020. 

“The lyrics were related to my challenges growing up,” she said. “This is something I wrote in response to feeling alone and facing my problems with seemingly no support, and singing this song was self-soothing.”

Handayani Indah

Indah performing at NTU Hourglass, an annual concert series by NTU CAC Jazz and Blues. Photo credits: Handayani Indah

Indah survived tough times while growing up. After her father, the sole breadwinner, lost his job as a car mechanic during the 2008 global financial crisis, the family of seven moved to Johor Bahru, Malaysia, and rented out their HDB flat in Singapore to help cover their living expenses. Indah, who was then 10, and the youngest of five siblings, would wake up at 4.30am to travel from Johor Bahru to Singapore for school. 

During that period, her father started working as a taxi driver to support the family. When he was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer, the family moved back to Singapore for him to spend his last days. When Indah’s mother took over the mantle of being the breadwinner, the strain of her family situation took its toll on Indah, who was pursuing her studies in Music (Voice) at the School of the Arts (SOTA), Singapore. With the help of her teachers, she graduated and earned a place at NTU Singapore, where she majored in Linguistics and Multilingual Studies

However, Indah’s grades at NTU suffered when she took on part-time jobs in a restaurant to help make ends meet. Her NTU senior guided her towards an application for the NTU Bursary in her second year, which she then qualified for. One of her professors also showed her a better way to work towards financial independence without compromising on her grades – by working as a student research assistant and honing her research skills on the job.

With the security of a bursary, Indah could immerse herself in the full student life experience at NTU. She participated in campus activities, volunteered at the Dyslexia Association of Singapore, and conducted weekly math tuition classes. She also worked part-time at the well-renowned animal welfare organisation ACRES and interned at an art gallery. Furthermore, Indah participated in a student exchange programme to Moscow, Russia through the aid of the Ng Bok Eng GEM Scholarship.

Life continues to throw tough challenges at Indah. In 2020, her mother was diagnosed with lymphoma and had to undergo costly chemotherapy. Still, Indah and her siblings remained resilient through their struggles. Later that year, she released her first single, Alice, on Spotify and lent her voice to perform at NTU Giving Day on 23 March 2022 while encouraging the Class of 2022 to join her in making a Class Gift.

Looking ahead, Indah said: “I’m excited to officially graduate! It’s going to be a new beginning for me as I start taking careful steps into adulthood and give back to the communities that have helped me so far.”


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