She sought help when down, but seized initiative to do better

Madam Sa'adah (above) was cited by MP Rahayu Mahzam as a positive example of the spirit of shared responsibility between the Government and the people. Saddled with debts of $100,000 and with three children to feed, Madam Sa'adah met her MP, who arranged
Madam Sa'adah (above) was cited by MP Rahayu Mahzam as a positive example of the spirit of shared responsibility between the Government and the people. Saddled with debts of $100,000 and with three children to feed, Madam Sa'adah met her MP, who arranged for her to receive financial assistance. She worked hard to pull herself out of debt and today, is a successful entrepreneur with two businesses - a tingkat business Dapur Ummi Abdullah and a nasi ambeng cafe at Simpang Bedok. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

In the initial days of her food catering business, Madam Sa'adah Jan and her husband would sleep in the playground near her kitchen after working 20-hour days.

She would start work at 4am and only finish at midnight, when the buses and trains had stopped running. "It would be sayang (painful) to fork out $20 for a taxi home," she said.

Those were trying times for Madam Sa'adah, who owed $100,000 after a failed conference management business venture in 2010.

She sold her four-room Housing Board flat, let go of her maid and had her car repossessed.

Today, the 36-year-old owns halal food delivery service Dapur Ummi Abdullah and the 60-seater Ambeng Cafe in Simpang Bedok, which sells nasi ambeng, a Malay dish.

Her story was cited yesterday by Ms Rahayu Mahzam (Jurong GRC), who said while those who need help should not be left to fend for themselves, people also need to help themselves and one another.

There has to be shared responsibility between the Government and the people, she added.

At Madam Sa'adah's lowest point, in 2010, she went to see her MP at a Meet-the-People session (MPS).

Her family of five had moved into a one-room rental flat with her sister and mother, who had cancer. They lived on about $300 a month, as the bulk of her husband's salary went to paying off her debt.

Madam Sa'adah recalled being given $200 and an EZ-link card with $30 at the MPS. She was also placed on financial assistance.

That was a wake-up call for her. "I had to do something... for my children who were so used to sleeping on a bed. There were seven of us inside a small flat," she said.

When she chanced upon a Facebook post by someone who wanted chicken curry with roti jala delivered to her home, she started catering for such orders. Today, her business serves 1,000 customers a day.

Lauding this spirit of personal responsibility, Ms Rahayu said: "She refused to stay dependent on public assistance and pulled herself out of financial difficulties."

Madam Sa'adah said she was grateful for the Government's help, but did not expect to be spoonfed.

"It all started with a humble idea. I dared not even imagine it could come to this. But with perseverance, here I am," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2016, with the headline 'She sought help when down, but seized initiative to do better'. Print Edition | Subscribe