THE only places outside Singapore that Low Jia Xin, 14, has ever been to are Malacca and Kuala Lumpur.
Her family's monthly average income of below $2,000 doesn't allow for splurging on holidays.
But next month, the Chung Cheng High School (Main) Sec 2 student will be flying for the first time - to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.
She is among 24 students taking part in the South East Community Development Council's (CDC) My First Break programme.
Pioneered in 2005, it helps financially disadvantaged students, from households with monthly incomes of less than $3,000, who have missed out on travel opportunities.
They are also top performers in their respective schools, with grades of mostly As and Bs.
Jia Xin first found out about the programme during school assembly. Excited, she took an application form home. Her parents encouraged her to apply.
The soft-spoken teenager lives in a four-room HDB flat in Tampines with her salesman father and her housewife mother, in their 40s, and younger brother, 12.
After learning she had been selected, she said: 'I've only been to Malaysia before, so I'm looking forward to almost everything in Vietnam.
'It's a dream come true for me, so I'm very happy.'
That excitement is apparent from her preparation for the trip. She has borrowed five books from the National Library to read up on Vietnam and photocopied pages of Vietnamese expressions to take along so she can communicate with the locals there.
Like Jia Xin, Thinesh Kumar Muthusamy, 15, from Victoria School, has not travelled further than Malaysia by bus.
Hence, the chance to go on a trip like this was a godsend.
Thinesh said: 'After I submitted the application form, I just kept praying that I would be chosen and after I was, I got really excited.'
He has been busy trawling the Internet for information on Vietnam.
To date, My First Break has benefited two cohorts of 44 students who have visited Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Shanghai.
The third cohort will be officially inducted into the programme today at a ceremony in Sentosa, while an alumni network will also be launched.
The past beneficiaries of the programme will mentor the new batch through a series of pre-trip workshops and post-trip activities.
Mr Stephen Leong, chairman of the programme's working committee, hopes the trip will give the students the chance to network and exchange experiences with their peers from a similar background.
Though almost all past beneficiaries have joined the alumni, Mr Leong said it was not compulsory.
However, he added: 'They've gone through hardship, they've been given their first break so I hope that they too in turn will give others another break.'
An alumnus, Firdaus Iskandar Shah Bakar, 16, a Sec 4 student from Pasir Ris Secondary School, doesn't mind sacrificing about five to 10 hours every weekend for the mentoring.
He was part of last year's group.
He said: 'The objective is to pay it forward, we're here to provide suggestions and share our experiences.'
Like the first two cohorts, the third will have a strong educational aspect incorporated into their week-long trip.
Other than taking in cultural sights, they will visit the Singapore Consulate, Department of Urban Planning and Architecture, the Vietnam-Singapore Industrial Park and local schools.
The students will also be encouraged to foster entrepreneurship by running their own businesses for a week in late December.
They will buy Vietnamese handicrafts during the trip and sell them here. Money raised will go towards the next batch of students.
The programme's cost per student is $1,600, which covers accommodation, airfare, food and $200 pocket money per student.
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