To celebrate Her World’s 60th anniversary this year, we present #HerWorldHerStory – a collection of 60 inspiring real-life stories on print and on Herworld.com. In this fifth of our six-part series, which runs till our August issue, #HerWorldHerStory features 10 women who encapsulate what it’s like to be a woman in Singapore. They share their successes, challenges, passions and ambitions. This edition also sees everyday heroes doing their part and stepping up to help the community during this difficult time, which has affected each and everyone of us. These are their stories.
From feeling lost to finding her dream job, the senior account executive shares career tips with young job-seekers.
In times like these, it’s even more important to future-proof yourself.
Jeraldine Phneah, 29
I was always an average student. When I graduated from Nanyang Technological University with a Bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies in 2014, I didn’t have my career track planned out. While my peers had a high GPA, mine were just average.
I only got a job two months after graduation, while most of my friends were hired before the school term ended. I had no idea what I wanted to do in life.
It took me about one and a half years to figure out what I wanted out of my career. In 2016, I decided to change my personal blog, jeraldinephneah.com, to a career and finance-focused one because I wanted to help millennials to be better prepared when they entered the job market.
There, I share my personal experiences (good and bad) and useful tips like salary negotiation, best job portals for millennials and lessons learnt from the corporate world.
I don’t wish for anyone to feel alone during this journey of adulting. In times like these, I feel it’s even more important to future-proof yourself.
I speak from experience: I was anxious about my future at one point... wondering if I would be lost forever, and whether I could provide enough for my parents, buy my own home or retire comfortably one day.
I tried my best to learn and plan my career. Things started to turn around for me in 2017 when I was working as an account manager at my second job.
I won the Rising Star Award at the Women Leading Change Awards. I was also one of the top three commercial account managers globally. I’m grateful to the seniors who guided me at work. Last year, I landed my dream job as a senior account executive with a cloud computing service company.
Besides my blog, I also connect with young professionals through Ask Me Anything sessions on my Instagram Story.
The common questions are: How to have a secondary income, and how to convince employers that they have valuable skills in a weak economy?
I always encourage fresh graduates to take a proactive role and leverage on career platform LinkedIn to connect with hiring recruiters.
I organise free LinkedIn and resume reviews through Google Hangouts to help improve the profiles of fresh graduates and young working adults.
So far, my best reward was when a young job-seeker told me he got an additional $500 a month in his first job after watching my IGTV video on salary negotiation!
I’m now working on webinars on topics such as how to best use LinkedIn, and on how young working adults can build up their professional network.
I hope that these sessions would provide great insights for young job-seekers, so they can make better manage their transition from the classroom to the working world.
Singer-songwriter Anjila Lim aka Kotoji expresses her personal struggles in her first music single.
They were tears of joy... I could finally tell my story through my song.
Music has always been a dream of mine, but I never thought I’d have the courage to pursue it. But I finally pushed myself to release my first single Roulette In My Head in May – a song I wrote two years ago while pursuing my bachelor’s degree in Education, Culture and Childhood in Sheffield.
Then I went through a difficult period in my relationship. While I was happy to have a partner, my low self-confidence made me anxious about how long the relationship would last. Though things went well, I had this constant fear.
I had an emotional breakdown one day, and that was when I wrote the song. Penning my anxiety of possibly losing a good thing was a way to process my emotions.
In some way, my self-doubt affected my relationship. The same way it made me feel about the songs I wrote as a teen. I never shared them with anyone because I never thought the songs (or I) were good enough.
For a long time, I struggled with people’s high expectations of me, as my mum is a successful entrepreneur and I’m the eldest of three children in the family.
I overcame my insecurities two years later... plagued with the thought of myself as an 80-year-old looking back at my life... feeling a wave of regret and sadness for not giving myself a chance. It reminded me of my childhood dream. At 10, I told my parents that I wanted to be a rock star!
I cried so hard when I first heard the rough mix of my pop-rock single. They were tears of joy... I finally did it! I could tell my story through my song and realise my dream. It gave me a new-found confidence, positivity and attitude to take up any challenges, no matter how scary they might seem. When it comes to love, I’m slowly learning how to let go and accept that whatever will be, will be. And whoever is meant to be in my life will appear when the time is right, and stick around.
The freelance psychologist gives MP3 players to inform and entertain the elderly living alone.
We aim to reach out to more than 2,000 elderly folks.
Skye Yeo, 46
When I heard from my friends how the elderly who were living alone were isolated and cut-off from the “outside” world because of the pandemic, I told myself that I could do my part to help them.
That was how Project Audible Cheer (https://bit.ly/3cPdp7i) was born.
I have elderly parents who turn to music for comfort, so I figured that the seniors who live alone could use a device like an MP3 player packed with a stream of useful content in various mother tongues like Mandarin, Malay, Tamil, and Chinese dialects.
With an MP3 player, they can stay entertained and be better informed of the Covid-19 situation. I went on crowd-funding platform Give.asia to create more awareness so the public can donate to the cause.
Next, my friends and I sourced for MP3 players online. After research, we paid for the first 100 sets using the initial funds collected through Give.asia. It’s been nearly two months, and the project raised over $10,000! It was encouraging to see many kind-hearted Singaporeans coming forward to help.
Through word of mouth, the Lion Befrienders Services (LBS) got to know about it. They helped to reach out to the elderly residents, conducting surveys to ask them if they would like to receive the radio sets. The response was overwhelming!
The LBS assists about 6,000 seniors living in one or two-room Housing and Development Board rented flats. We aim to reach out to more than 2,000 elderly folks. So far, we have paid for 700 radio sets. Each set includes a portable MP3 radio, a USB head and two memory cards, with content created by non-profit arts company 3Pumpkins.
The entertainment content includes retro music playlists and storytelling. There’s also useful information like how to protect themselves against the coronavirus, such as washing their hands with soap, and social distancing rules.
When the radio sets were distributed, I saw how happy the elderly were. I’m glad that the radio sets can bring these nostalgic sounds to seniors, and support their well-being.
Born with male chromosomes, The artist embraces being intersex and wants others like her to accept who they are.
I count myself lucky to have a good support system help me get through the confusing times.
Tan Ya, 26
I am an intersex person – a female with male chromosomes. Those who are intersex can have a variety of differences in genital and chromosomal makeup. It is estimated that 1 in 1,500 births may be born intersex.
Dating has always been open and transparent for me. My experiences have been positive and empowering. It’s always about listening and understanding that all women are different.
When I was a teen, puberty came at a slow pace. I was insecure of my small chest size and biological differences. My period was a “mystery” – it was almost non-existent when I was younger. I only experienced occasional abdominal cramps. But I knew there was a huge difference in my biological system.
My family didn’t know what was going on at first. But they were aware of my confusion about my body. I went through multiple medical check-ups between the ages of 17 and 24.
The medical specialists were passionate about understanding my condition, as every intersex body is different. They detailed my variation and I finally came to terms with my condition... it allowed me to discover my identity as an intersex person.
The tests revealed that I was born with the atypical male XY chromosomes, and that was part of the reason why I experienced puberty slower than most girls. It helped me to resolve all the inner conflict, self-doubt and insecurities I once had about my body.
Some of my friends whom I have known since I was six have been with me through this journey of self discovery. All these souls have taught me empathy, kindness and compassion. These are the qualities I live by.
My family has been very supportive and they are with me. My godmother told me in Mandarin: “As long as you’re happy, we’re happy for you.”
I count myself lucky to have a good support system to help me get through the confusing times. As an artist, it definitely inspires me to see the world as limitless when I’m creating art.
My artworks are like journals, where I document the human condition and how I feel about it through sketches and photographic images.
I hope my voice and narrative carry through my works to help spread awareness and acceptance of being intersex.
Now that I have chosen to come forward, I hope it will open up more safe spaces for those who have experienced it quite differently, to know that being different is the truest representation of diversity.
The doctor built a free translation website overnight to help healthcare frontliners communicate with foreign workers.
I’m so touched by the generosity, kindness and spirit of people rallying together.
Dr Sudesna Roy Chowdhury, 24
April 13, 11:58pm: This was the exact moment I felt compelled to do something about the migrant worker health crisis. That night, I got a Gov.sg Telegram message that foreign workers had become a significant majority, with 280 out of 386 Covid-19 infection cases. I was devastated, knowing the difficulties they face in our system, and, of course, the communication barrier.
After Googling how to build a website, I started to work on the translation site immediately to offer medical history questions from English to Bengali to help foreign workers and frontliners communicate. I had a (ready) translated English-to-Bengali medical history document, such as checking a patient’s travel history and symptoms, uploaded. My parents and two sisters helped to translate some materials previously, so all I had to do was to piece them together and do the audio recordings.
In eight hours, Sudesnaroychowdhury. wixsite.com/covid went live. It now has over 50,000 hits a month, with over 100 volunteers working tirelessly to improve the content.
I’m touched by the generosity, kindness, and spirit of people rallying together during such times. The volunteers also helped to release a new mobile web version, Translatefor.sg, which contains romanised Bengali pronunciations, plus translations in 10 languages like Mandarin and Tagalog. I was very moved when a professor from Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at the National University of Singapore told me that he shared the site with a group of over 1,600 doctors and 150 of his medical school batch mates (class of 1995).
The volunteers are now providing other free services, such as translating documents for hospitals, interpreting medical consultations via Zoom or phone, and reaching out to foreign workers to provide them with mental health assistance or food.
The needs for the websites are 24/7… and the fatigue gets to you. OMG… it was so difficult… and is still so difficult!
I was able to dedicate three hours a night after coming home from work in the first few weeks. Now, I use my days off and weekends to work on them.
To help the unemployed get back on their feet, the education entrepreneur is offering a free e-commerce course.
What motivates me is teaching people how to kick-start their businesses and bounce back.
Pamela Lim, 54
When I realised that many small businesses and people have lost their livelihood in recent months, I decided to provide a free e-commerce entrepreneurial course. I knew the way to survive is to go digital, as online businesses will grow even bigger.
Plus, the six-month course will bring new skills to the unemployed. They can set up their own online businesses and earn a new source of income.
I conduct the digital course (worth $3,250, at http://bit.ly/2tSL0Nb) with three other instructors under Cambridge Institute of Communication Arts, which I founded in 2017. This is my area of expertise: I have a Masters in Information Technology, and Masters in Business Administration.
To join, the students must agree to use their newly acquired skills to launch their online business within three weeks. So far, we’ve trained 300 people, out of which 15 students are sponsored. They include chefs and women who have become sole breadwinners after their husbands lost their jobs.
The first three weeks of the course will see students and instructors brainstorm all kinds of ideas, before we create the products and build a system around each business. I encourage my students to think big and out of the box! Of course, the business has to be viable and creative, too! Some ideas include digital wet markets, home-based food businesses, and offering financial advice to help others get through tough times. Each week, we’ll guide each student one-on-one through the remaining months. I also oversee their initial months of operations. What motivates me is teaching people how to kick-start their businesses and bounce back!
I’m happy to see the students grow... helping them rethink problems, provide new solutions and be adaptable. One day, I’ll look back and marvel at all the ideas we thought up during these times.
The part-time sales manager stepped up to teach people how to make their own masks.
I sat at my sewing table from 10am to 10pm.
Sheila Khoo, 69
Ever since I attended a dressmaking course in my 20s, sewing has become my pastime for the last 40 years.
In February, my daughter Hedy encouraged me to sew something more useful than tote bags and patchwork blankets. That is, reusable masks.
I thought, what a great idea! I could use the time at home to make them for my family and friends.
So far, I’ve sewn more than 1,200 masks. I made 30 pieces for healthcare workers to use when they are oﬀ-duty. Making these masks was daunting at first as I didn’t even have a sewing pattern with accurate dimensions.
I researched Youtube tutorials and after “studying” the videos for a few days, I finally got it right. I quickly produced a prototype.
Through the weeks, I picked up speed in production. From sewing about five masks a day, I was soon making up to 15 a day.
I gave these masks to my close friends and family members, who passed it to other people who needed them. My tech-savvy daughter made a 12-minute video for The Straits Times, with me giving step-by-step instructions on how to make a mask.
I wanted to encourage Singaporeans to make their own masks instead of buying disposable ones.
My daughter posted the video and article on Facebook, and the post was also shared by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Many people have asked me where to buy or order the fabric Well, I sourced and bought the (100 per cent) cotton fabric (used for inner and outer layers of the mask), which is the most comfortable and “breathable” material, from Sing Mui Heng at People’s Park Centre, Spotlight and online stores before the Circuit Breaker.
Though there’s a demand for these masks, I don’t intend to sell them. I sew them as gifts for friends and family. During the Circuit Breaker, I sat at my sewing table from 10am to 10pm, stepping out only for meals and an afternoon coffee break.
At the moment, I have fulfilled all the requests for my masks, so I have switched back to sewing other items such as tote bags and home clothing. I may experiment with sewing other types of masks later on.
She is among the growing number of millennials who ditched regular jobs to become hawkers.
I get to meet all kinds of of people... the good, the bad, the weird.
Aericurl Chng, 28
It’s been a challenging journey as a young hawker, and it’s not because of the long hours I put in. People have asked me because of my age: “You know how to cook or not?” and “Your food is edible or not?”
It sounds discouraging, but I prefer to let my food do the talking. I sell traditional desserts like cheng tng, chendol and red bean soup at Ci Yuan Community Club Hawker Centre in Hougang. I sell about 400 bowls a day. Some are homemade recipes, others are self-taught creations.
I’ve always wanted to run a cafe, but like many Singaporeans, I grew up eating at hawker centres. I thought, “If the younger generation can step up to keep this hawker culture alive for future generations, why not?” So I quit my job as a clinic assistant a few years ago to get into Hawkerpreneurs under the Fei Siong Entrepreneurship Program. It provides local entrepreneurs a chance to operate their own cooked food stalls and to preserve our hawker heritage.
The three-month training was tough! I had my first taste of what life would be like as a hawker. I toiled from 7am to 11pm at two stalls, managing the business operations, from sales, planning the stall layout, buying equipment, dealing with suppliers, to learning and improving the recipes.
I remember having to deshell hard boiled eggs every morning. The eggs were very fresh so the egg white would stick to the shell. Each time I peeled an egg, the yolk would be exposed and I couldn’t sell them! So I ate them... by the time I ruined the third egg, I couldn’t swallow it anymore!
My parents were initially shocked by my decision to become a hawker. I didn’t have any F&B experience. I graduated with a Food Science and Nutrition certificate from Institute of Technical Education College East, and a Pharmaceutical Science diploma from Republic Polytechnic. I put in $5,000 of my savings to take over the dessert stall.
My folks later quit their jobs to help me as both of them had some F&B experience, and business was also picking up. They taught me how to make hot home-cooked desserts. My dad has since retired, while my mum still helps me.
My working hours are very long and I try to find time to have a social life. Being a hawker brings me so much joy... I get to meet all kinds of people... the good, the bad, the weird, and even the troublemakers! But what matters is, I’m doing what I love most.
The business development director started a greeting card project to teach children to be kind.
The project helped kids understand issues like self-care and empathy for others.
Rahimah A.Rahim, 53
I want to encourage kids to grow up to be respectful. And I hope to inspire adults to be kinder. That was the goal of The Get Well Card Project that I founded in January, after reading articles of landlords evicting their tenants who were Chinese nationals returning from China.
As a society, I feel that xenophobia isn’t the way to go. We need to respond with care and empathy. I created the programme with a grant offered by Our SG Fund to target the most impressionable group of people – kids. I wanted to capture their innocence and authenticity on how they viewed the world.
I contacted about 20 schools and a total of seven schools, including Dunearn Secondary School and Yio Chu Kang Primary School, with students aged between nine and 14 taking part. I provided a guide for teachers to explain the project’s objectives, time frame, notes for in-class discussion, and a brief on designing the cards, to prep the students.
In two months, the target of 1,000 handwritten cards was met.
The children made the cards for foreign workers, police officers, cleaners, doctors, teachers and patients. I was so touched when I saw all the cards. The children know that they have a part to play, whether the kids are Singaporeans or foreigners living here.
Some cards were really creative like this one: “To all doctors: You know that you’re the only people who care for the patients who are infected... You have sacrificed so much for these kinds of moments, The Virus”. The project opened up topics like self-care, hygiene, empathy for others and economic loss, to help the kids understand the issues.
In two months, we met the target of 1,000 handwritten cards. I was stressed with the mad rush to collect the cards before the schools closed during the Circuit Breaker. The images of the cards have been uploaded to the website Getwellcard.sg. I’m planning to distribute the cards to the hospitals, clinics and folks like bus drivers, taxi drivers, teachers and patients, post-Circuit Breaker.
To get more opportunities in Hollywood, the VFX artist had to adapt to being a freelancer.
I worked on the visual effects for movies like Aquaman and The Tax Collector
Vicki Lau, 29
I had to go freelance as a VFX (visual effects) artist in Hollywood if I wanted to go far. While having a full-time job means stability, that’s not the working culture in Hollywood’s VFX industry.
I got my “break” in Hollywood via a VFX internship in 2013 to work on Stargate Studio’s shows like NBC’s Dracula and The Walking Dead.
I chanced upon the internship flyer at Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD), where I studied visual effects. After rounds of interviews, I was selected.
As a project-based freelancer, the flexibility gives me access to more job opportunities than a full-time job. Since graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Visual Effects from SCAD in 2014, I’ve worked on films like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Guardians of the Galaxy. I was in charge of making the 3-D effects. Last year, I worked on the visual effects for movies like Aquaman and The Tax Collector. The teams I work with can be as small as three people to as big as working with multiple VFX studios in the US and globally.
Sometimes, I work 80 hours a week. Freelance VFX artists make at least US$40 ($55) per hour, more than a full-time employee. You can choose how much work you want to take on, and when you want to take a break.
After a few projects, the studios asked me to take on more work. But the after-effects of the Covid-19 pandemic has seen fewer jobs, although I still have projects to work on during this period.
My interest in film started when my dad gave me a camcorder. I found my creative outlet at 14. In 2011, I graduated from Singapore Polytechnic’s Digital Media course, specialising in computer-generated effects.
The VFX and animation industry is male-dominated but I’ve not faced any discrimination as a woman. I’m now back in Singapore and I’m making use of the time to teach visual effects production on online learning platforms like Udemy.
I want to introduce people to the world of visual effects. It’s really fun and I enjoy sharing the knowledge with those living outside the US or others who don’t have access to such opportunities in their countries. I hope to encourage more Singaporeans to venture out to pursue their passion and expand their horizons.