MALAYSIA - It was always struggle to make ends meet for single mother Shaidatul Rabika. The 33-year-old, who hails from a small village in Kota Kinabalu, would set aside some money for her two children's school expenses and try to make do with the remaining money for food.
However, it was never easy, especially at the end of every month, when the family would run out of funds.
Only during Hari Raya each year, she would buy her children new clothes to wear, using the RM50 (S$19.46) she tries to save each month, whenever she can.
"It was difficult. We were not starving, but we did not have an easy life either.
"Our house, a wooden house, was on the verge of collapsing. We would have just enough money for the children's school expenses and to buy fuel for their father to go to work each day.
"I tried to save RM50 each month whenever I could. My children would often ask for new clothes or toys but we could not afford such things," she said over the phone from her village.
Shaidatul had first worked as a temporary teacher at a primary school in her hometown for a year but suddenly lost her job when the school decided to only employ trained teachers.
At the time, Shaidatul was still married, and her husband worked for a courier service company.
Having suddenly lost her source of income, Shaidatul tried to think of what she could do to make some extra money.
Not wanting to be far from her children, she decided to set up a stall in her village to sell vegetables and fish.
For two years, Shaidatul would sell vegetables and fish in the morning and in the evening; she would make soup and bottled pickles to sell to the villagers.
She could make up to RM1,000 each month, while still being close to her children.
"Of course, it was not easy. I would have to wake up at 3am every morning and go to the market to buy supplies. I would have to bring my children along with me as they were very young," she said.
Unfortunately, the hectic schedule proved too much for Shaidatul who soon fell sick and could no longer handle the stall on her own.
"I guess I was overworked, trying to be at the stall all day while also caring for the children. I became ill with asthma and was forced to stop," she said.
Last year, Shaidatul, who had earlier been registered under the Government's eKasih programme for low income earners, was selected to participate in the 1AZAM initiative.
The 1AZAM, an income generating programme to allow poor families to set up their own businesses and stand independently on their own two feet, was introduced in 2011.
"A friend of mine told me about 1AZAM and that I was eligible to participate.
"She asked if I would like to join her and I agreed," she said.
After a three-month course in Penampang, Sabah, Shaidatul was equipped with knowledge on basic make-up skills, hairstyling and bridal and decorations.
"I was also given a simple makeup set to help me kick off my own business.
"Having my own business is something I had always wanted, ever since I was young. Even if it was just a small stall to sell vegetables, I would be happy.
"Especially as I got older, being self-employed seemed to be the best option as a mother with two young children to care for," she said.
She started off by doing makeup for engagements and soon bought better quality make-up products and tools.
She later decided to take a loan and opened her own beauty parlour, called FF Beauty Centre, at Central Plaza in Kota Kinabalu in December 2012.
Now, less than a year later, her business has picked up and she is earning enough to support herself and her children - a 12-year-old son and a six year old daughter - after her separation from her husband early this year.
"Although we have to now depend on a single income, I am thankful that help came at the right time for me to be able to earn a better income and to be able to stand on my own feet," she said.
She has now closed her first shop to open a bigger one in the city.
"I have got a contract from a beauty school to help provide practical training for their students at my beauty parlour.
"It will begin next year. As my first shop would be too small to accommodate the students, I am in the midst of preparing to open a bigger shop.
"In the meantime, I am still providing beauty services at my home," said the single mother who can make up to RM2,500 each month from her business.
Shaidatul, however, is not resting on her laurels as she is continuously upgrading herself by taking more courses on beauty and make-up.
"I am still studying and plan to continue to improve myself as much as I can to provide the best service for my customers and the best I can for my family," she said.