People

No sitting still after loss of both legs

Madam Zainon Arshad with her son Huzairul Izwan. Madam Zainon lost both her legs because of diabetes. Rather than rely on her husband's income, she took up courses to learn how to make baked goods and now sells them from home, and sometimes at bazaar
Madam Zainon Arshad with her son Huzairul Izwan. Madam Zainon lost both her legs because of diabetes. Rather than rely on her husband's income, she took up courses to learn how to make baked goods and now sells them from home, and sometimes at bazaars.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Double amputee starts home bakery business to contribute to the family

The lowest point in Madam Zainon Arshad's life came just over five years ago when doctors told her they had to amputate her right leg because of her diabetes.

"I felt very sad because I thought I was useless. I didn't know what to do at all," the 50-year-old told The Straits Times.

The news was the culmination of a series of unfortunate events for her. A year earlier, she had her left leg amputated for the same reason. That same year, she had started going to dialysis three times a week because of kidney failure, which made it harder for her to care for her three sons, one of whom has cerebral palsy. She used to work as a school clerk but had to leave her job because of her condition.

But rather than rely solely on her husband's income, Madam Zainon, who was upbeat and chatty as she wheeled herself around the family's four-room flat in Woodlands, said she wanted to do something to contribute to the family.

"I refused to sit still," she said.

So she started a home bakery business, and occasionally, renting stalls at bazaars.

Madam Zainon takes orders from friends and family for items such as curry puffs, sardine puffs, cakes and cookies.

She had attended courses at the Muslim Kidney Action Association following her first amputation in 2011, where she learnt how to make baked goods.

Then in 2016, she joined the PA-Kesuma Entrepreneurship Programme, a collaboration between the People's Association and Association of Malay Entrepreneurs.

Kesuma, one of PA's community partners, launched a WeCare PALS Give-Back initiative at the start of this month, pledging to clock 5,000 hours of community service together for 2018.

The programme taught Madam Zainon skills such as online marketing. She currently showcases her products on her Facebook page called Zave's Kitchen, where she also takes orders.

Today, she makes about $100 to $120 a month from selling these home-made products. While she described it as "a small amount", she was still glad as it contributes to the household finances. And she said bazaars boost her takings. "For a month's work at the Ramadan bazaar, I can earn $1,000. From community events, I can earn $400 for two days' work."

Madam Zainon said the family is getting by.

Her husband Hussman Abd Bakar, 55, who does administration work in the mailing industry, takes home $1,800 every month. They also receive about $300 in financial assistance from the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis).

They have three sons - Hairul Amirin, 20, a student at ITE College Central; Huzairul Izwan, 18, who studies at the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore (CPAS); and the youngest, Amirul Hasnizam, 11.

Hairul, the eldest, helps around the house when he can, despite being busy with school himself.

"If I'm not feeling well, he cooks for the other children," said Madam Zainon.

Huzairul was born one month premature and has cerebral palsy, an incurable disorder which impairs muscle control.

"When he was six months old, he developed a fever and fits. The doctor said his brain was damaged," said Madam Zainon.

Huzairul will be graduating from CPAS and Madam Zainon and Mr Hussman are looking to enrol him in a work programme in another school, preferably closer to their home.

They also hired a maid to take care of him.

"Our finances are very tight. We have to pay our children's school fees, household expenses and also the maid. I need to have a maid at home, because I can't bathe my son as I don't have both legs."

And while she sometimes wonders why so much has happened to her, she said she has faith that there is a reason for everything: "I have to handle it whether good or bad. I love my family so much."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 22, 2018, with the headline 'No sitting still after loss of both legs'. Print Edition | Subscribe