Viewpoint: My Mother, the Social Entrepreneur
Tuesday, July 7, 2015
The year is 1957. I am born in a Singapore that is very poor. Except for the British and those who work for them, almost all the rest of us live hand to mouth. My father works in a provision shop, and his $90 salary as a shop assistant can hardly feed his family of three kids, one wife and our grandmother.
He is a diligent worker and a very responsible father, but he is not enterprising. The only thing he can “do” is thrift. He eats at the provision shop with his boss and sleeps at the five-foot-way in order to save money on food and bus fares home. When he delivers groceries under the hot sun, he does not even spend five cents on the soya bean milk he loves so much. Every cent is conserved for the family.
He comes home only once a week, instead of every evening, to see his family.
Forced by circumstances, my mother, Madam Tan Siam Kheng, has to think up ways to supplement the household income as her three kids are growing up fast and need to go to school.
Initially, she tries cooking pancakes, hoping to piggyback on our neighbour who peddles freshly cut fruit on his pushcart.
But that idea fails, as our neighbour does not promote the pancakes and instead returns to her in the evening all the unsold products. My mother gives up her first start-up enterprise after three nights of distributing free pancakes.
Losing the few dollars that it cost to make the pancakes is devastating.