Beyond Social Services (BSS), a local charity dedicated to helping the underprivileged, recently featured the story of a young mother who overcame, homelessness, unemployment, and divorce and is now an entrepreneur.
That young woman is Liyana Dhamirah – a Singaporean who went from not having enough money to buy milk powder for her baby to running her own start-up, with hard worl, perseverance and the help of a few good Samaritans.
Liyana shared with BSS that she had her first child at the tender age of 16 and that she later left her job in retail to raise her two children. In 2009, the family became homeless and were forced to sleep in a tent at a few beaches here.
Pregnant with her third child then, Liyana told her boys that they were having a holiday at the beach to explain why they were sleeping in a tent:
“I had my first child when I was 16 years old. I was working in retail then. By the time I was carrying my third child, in 2009, I had left my full-time job to focus on my marriage, and we found ourselves homeless.
“My then husband and I slept in a tent on Sembawang beach with my two older boys. When our license expired, we moved to West Coast Park. I told the kids we were having a holiday on the beach.
“On the eve of new year, after about 3 months of homelessness, by God’s grace, I met a few editors of an independent news site on the beach. I had no idea who they were, but they asked me many questions about my situation. They even wrote a three page letter to appeal for housing on my behalf. The next day, I received calls from multiple agencies who told me about an interim housing arrangement.”
The editors who helped Liyana out in her time of need are Ravi Philemon and Andrew Loh, who were managing The Online Citizen at the time. Ravi later became the editor of The Independent (a post he has since left) while Andrew presently contributes to The Independent.
With the help of Ravi and Andrew, Liyana managed to move into a temporary home where she had her third child, a daughter. Liyana soon became a single mother when her husband left their family.
One day, the young mother discovered that she did not have enough money in her bank account to buy milk powder for her baby. Frustrated, Liyana started her own small trinket business, selling handcrafted items at flea markets and online:
“We finally moved into a house and I gave birth to my daughter there. The kids had trouble adapting as we had to live with other families. I reassured them that it was only temporary and that we had to learn to manage a small house before we could manage a bigger house.
“My husband and I decided to divorce, and I had to provide for my children on my own. I remember how one day, I went to withdraw money from the ATM to buy milk powder for my baby, only to discover that I was left with just $5.35. I couldn’t withdraw the money, and returned with no milk powder. Then and there, I decided I had to be resourceful to get ourselves a stable home.
“Soon after, I started my first trinket business. I sold my products online and at flea markets. But the income I made was barely enough to get us by.”
Noticing that Liyana yearned to provide a better future for her children, Ravi introduced Liyana to Bryan Long, an entrepreneur who hired Liyana. Bryan is a serial entrepreneur who has been featured in publications like CNBC. He also contested the 2015 General Election.
Liyana’s work with Bryan fuelled her interest in business and she slowly began advancing herself by taking free courses after her children went to bed at night:
“One of the editors who helped me write the appeal letter introduced me to a technology entrepreneur who hired me as his assistant and sponsored me for a three day Lean Start-up course. I discovered that I had an interest in entrepreneurship.
“I had no background in coding or design, so I learnt these skills from free online courses on Coursera after I put my kids to bed at night.”
Liyana, who now runs her own virtual assistants business and is undertaking a business management diploma, said that the tough experiences she and her children went through made them all the more closer. She added that she did not receive much love as a child and is determined that her children will not have the same experiences she did:
“To be honest, I have become much closer to my children because we survived homelessness together. Before that, I spent most of my time working. But since I lost my job and we started staying in these small spaces, I have spent every moment with my kids – sending them to school, helping them with their homework, having meals and heart-to-heart talks with them. One reason why I decided to start my own home-based business is so I can continue spending more time with them. I didn’t receive much love or care as a child. I want it to be different for them.
“I am currently taking my diploma in business management at Singapore Polytechnic, and will graduate in 2019.
“I am also managing my own tech start-up! I have been running it for almost five years, and it was only in the beginning of this year that I saw business pick up. Can you imagine, I was earning only $200 a month in the first few years?! My side trinket business, which I’ve kept going for years, helped us meet ends.”
Liyana also gives back to the community by connecting the homeless with resources and by advocating for the underprivileged. Urging those who are in situations she once was to “think out of the box,” Liyana added that it is vital for struggling families to think long-term instead of just the here-and-now:
“One of the ways I give back to my community is by befriending homeless families, linking them up to resources and advocating for them. I realise that many of them are unable to voice their struggles, so they need a “middle man”.
“In my own neighbourhood, I participate actively in the monthly Tabung and distribute food rations together with my children. I also offer a listening ear and advice to any neighbour who asks.
“I would like to tell families who are struggling with their own situation, “Think out of the box for solutions, stick by your values, and surround yourself with people who build you up. Think in the long-term rather than only for the here-and-now.””
If you would like to support Liyana’s virtual assistants business, visit www.va-sg.com. Liyana’s team of trustworthy, dedicated and friendly assistants can help you with your business needs with a simple click of a button.