'Bao lady' who helps single mums wins Aware award

Madam Sarah Tan with her award from Aware. The bun shop owner has housed more than 50 people over a decade and hired more than 10 of them at her stalls.
Madam Sarah Tan with her award from Aware. The bun shop owner has housed more than 50 people over a decade and hired more than 10 of them at her stalls.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

For 10 years, "bao lady" Sarah Tan has opened up her five-room home to single mothers and homeless youth.

The owner of steamed bun shop Choon Ming Bao Dian uses her business to support her social work. Of the 50 people she has taken in over the years, more than 10 have worked in her stalls. She had 13 stalls at the peak of her business. Now, she has three outlets left after a failed business deal.

For her efforts, Madam Tan, 52, was yesterday given the individual award for champion for women's economic empowerment by the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware).

"Of course, I'm happy to receive the award," she said in Mandarin. "I'm also a single mother, so I understand their struggles."

At its annual gala dinner yesterday during which it raised $402,487, Aware gave out awards to individuals and organisations which have made inroads in the economic empowerment of women, and gender equality and justice.

There was also an Alamak! Award, a tongue-in-cheek "honour" for those who hampered gender equality. Aware also announced the Building Dreams programme, in partnership with voluntary welfare organisation Daughters of Tomorrow.

  • Other winners

  • Champion for women's economic empowerment (organisation)
    Bettr Barista is a social enterprise founded in 2011. Since then, it has trained 50 marginalised women and young people to work in the speciality coffee industry.

    Champion for gender equality and justice (organisation)
    Transgender shelter T Project, founded in 2014 by two transgender sisters, is the only organisation housing homeless transgender people.

    Champion for gender equality and justice (individual)
    Freelance journalist and activist Kirsten Han was credited by Aware with highlighting gender issues during last year's General Election.

    Alamak! award
    This tongue-in-cheek award for sexism went to lawyer Edmund Wong. He got 71 per cent of votes cast for humiliating a molestation victim in court. He had asked her to stand up to show how attractive she was, and said if she was voluptuous and in a low-cut top, she was more likely to be molested.

Building Dreams will train low-income women in confidence-building and IT skills, among others, to help them gain employment.

Madam Tan's work with needy Singaporeans started in 2007 when a women's shelter approached her about hiring a single mother at her Ang Mo Kio stall. She hired the woman and also took her and her four children in. When the mother had to be hospitalised, Madam Tan took care of the four children.

Losing her husband in a car accident at 27 and raising three children on her own made her more aware of the difficulties single mothers faced, she said.

Currently, Madam Tan houses six children at her rented property in Casuarina Road and is expecting two unwed mothers to move in when their babies are due.

Her long-time friend, sales executive Esther Tham, 56, who met her when their children attended the same school, said: "I'm glad that her efforts have been recognised."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 18, 2016, with the headline ''Bao lady' who helps single mums lauded'. Print Edition | Subscribe