Entrepreneur who overcame drug abuse helps at-risk youth

Last year, Ms Jerlin Cheong and her husband collaborated with a friend to set up logistics businesses KINKIN Van SG.
Last year, Ms Jerlin Cheong and her husband collaborated with a friend to set up logistics businesses KINKIN Van SG.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - A typical weekday morning for entrepreneur Jerlin Cheong, 27, involves rising early to get her four-year-old son ready for school before heading to her logistics firm's warehouse with her husband.

There, she oversees the operations and finance, and plans drivers' schedules, usually returning home after her employees have left.

Her life now is a far cry from the drug addiction she struggled with as a teenager. Ms Cheong began abusing drugs at the age of 13, as she struggled to cope with the stress of studies and her family environment.

"Both my parents worked very long hours, and while I appreciated the efforts to support me, it meant I had less time with them. There was also a high expectation on me to excel in school. Because I could not meet the expectations, I started hating home and school, and I stayed out late, almost every day," she said.

She was introduced to drugs by her peers in the neighbourhood and was eventually sent to the Singapore Girls' Home when her mother filed for a Beyond Parental Control order, now known as Family Guidance Order.

The order is issued to children who do not respond to counselling or family programmes, and persist in delinquent behaviour, such as running away from home or being violent towards their family members.

After being discharged from the Girls' Home and performing poorly in her O-level examinations, she went back to drugs at the age of 18.

At the age of 19, she was sentenced to prison, and that became a turning point for her. Ms Cheong decided to resume her studies while she was in prison.

"My mindset at that point in time was that I came in with nothing, but I must leave with something," she said.

With the support of her family and prison counsellor, Ms Cheong retook her O-level examination and passed. She enrolled in the Mass Media Management course at Nanyang Polytechnic in 2016 after completing her sentence.

"My age gap with the other students was significant because I was about 22 and the others were 17. Initially, I felt it was very difficult to fit in, but I tried my best and finished my course," she said.

In 2017, Ms Cheong married a man she had met a few months after her release from prison. The couple welcomed their son that same year.

Determined to help at-risk young people, Ms Cheong joined the Youth Advisory Group in 2019, participating in consultations such as the post-care pilot for youngsters discharged from the Ministry of Social and Family Development Homes.

Last year, she and her husband collaborated with a friend to set up their logistics businesses, KINKIN Van SG, which offers last-mile delivery services.

While the journey to rehabilitation has been difficult at times, Ms Cheong said it has been a fulfilling experience.

"I really appreciate my mother. I think family support is very important. Even though she was very upset, she continued to persevere. Throughout my recovery journey, she came to see me every two weeks without fail. My counsellor from prison also empowered me to believe in myself," she said.

"Many people may feel inferior about their past and think that they don't deserve to be better but I would advise them to learn from their mistakes and use it as a lesson to achieve more than they thought they could."