Farmer Duakin Jaikol has traveled many times from his remote hometown in Keningau, to Kota Kinabalu.On June 20, though, the 49-year-old took extra care to ensure he did not miss a very important trip to the Sabah capital.The 130-kilometre journey through the rugged Crocker Range Mountain was very crucial to Duakin. He was invited to attend a special gathering-cum-luncheon at Menara Petronas, near the historic city centre.During lunch, Duakin, who is of Kadazan-Dusun descent, proudly watched as his eldest son, Raysieo Duakin, was awarded the prestigious Petronas scholarship to study abroad. The 18-year-old is one of the fortunate 13 students in Sabah who have been chosen under the Petronas Education Sponsorship Programme (PESP).\"Raysieo is our first child to study overseas, and we are very proud and happy for him. We are sad that he will be going away for a very long time, but it offers a good future for him, and a good example for his other siblings.\"We\'re really thankful to Petronas for giving my son the possibility of a brighter future,\" Duakin told Bernama, here. THE PETRONAS SCHOLARSHIP Apart from Raysieo, four other Sabahan students were present at the special gathering hosted by Petronas.Prior to being selected for the PESP, Raysieo, who scored 5A+ and 4A in the SPM examination, went for a student exchange programme to Tokyo, Japan. The former Sekolah Menengah Sains Sabah student returned to Sabah before the deadly earthquake that hit Japan on March 11.\"The foreign exchange programme gave me the experience of a lifetime. I did miss my family very much while I was there, but it was a good learning experience.\"Because my family is based in Keningau (in the interior of Sabah), I have always lived away from home. I attended secondary school in Kota Kinabalu for five years, before being accepted into the Japanese student exchange programme,\" he said.Raysieo, who is currently studying Geo-science in a preparatory course at Taylor\'s College, Kuala Lumpur, hopes to study at Princeton University, U.S.A. QUALIFIED SABAHANS Another scholarship recipient, Elsa Ng Yi Sa, a Sino-Kadazan, said she was very happy and excited about the award.\"It will not only give me the chance to study abroad and gain wider exposure, but also take the financial burden off my retired parents,\" said Elsa, whose mother is a pensioner with Pos Malaysia, while her father used to be an electrician.The 18 year-old former Sekolah Menengah Tshung Tsin student, who scored 7A+ and 2A in the SPM examination, will study petrochemical engineering at one of the higher institutes of learning in Kuala Lumpur, starting July 3.Like Duakin, Elsa\'s mother, 59-year-old June Thu, said she was very happy her daughter had won the PESP.\"The scholarship has taken a big load off my shoulders. It\'s a proud moment for us, and we would like to thank Petronas for giving Elsa the opportunity,\" said June, who has five daughters, with Elsa being the youngest.Japar Ungki, whose daughter, Nur Asyiqin Atikah, was also awarded the PESP, said, \"I\'m very glad to see that Nur Asyiqin\'s academic dream is finally coming closer to reality, and we\'re also very thankful to Petronas.\"Meanwhile, Petronas Sabah and Wilayah Persekutuan General Manager, Joseph Podtung said, of the 13 Petronas scholarship recipients, five were awarded overseas programmes, while the remaining eight would continue their studies at University Teknologi Petronas (UTP), in Seri Iskandar, Perak.Podtung said Petronas is happy to see a greater number of qualified Sabahan students receive scholarships to pursue higher education locally and abroad.\"Some of these students come from a less privileged background. We are very happy to be able to provide them the opportunity to pursue their academic dreams, and create a better future for them and their families.\"We hope, with our assistance, these students will be able to develop their knowledge and capability in their chosen disciplines, to contribute to Petronas\' growth, as well as towards nation-building,\" he said. AWARD BASED ON MERIT The PESP, started in 1975, is a sponsorship programme to provide educational opportunities to deserving students, to help realize their academic potential. It also seeks to develop a pool of capable professionals to meet Petronas\' manpower and business-growth needs.Podtung said the scholarships are awarded to qualified students based on merit, through a stringent selection process. The process took into account the candidates\' academic and extra-curricular performance, their performance during a pre-qualification interview and written assessment, and their socio-economic background.The general manager said that out of the 209 students who applied for the programme, 18 were selected. However, five of them decided to decline the offer, as they had already received sponsorship from other organizations.So far, Petronas has sponsored a total of 651 Sabah students, with scholarships worth RM47 million, he said.