Kind woman houses, hires unwed mums, ex-cons and the disabled

Kind woman houses, hires unwed mums, ex-cons and the disabled
Bao-shop owner Sarah Tan (centre, in black), at her Jalan Kuras home with (from far left) shop-worker Leslie Tan, 38, Madam Jackie Pook, 44, (a widow who has a free space to sell her products at Madam Tan's shop), Madam Tan's maid Nana, Mr Tan Kok Liang, 44 (a brain injury patient), and charges Sabrinah and Samuel Teo and 18-month-old toddler Agnes.

SINGAPORE - On a typical day at Choon Ming Bao Dian in Jalan Kuras, off Upper Thomson Road, you can spot as many as eight workers manning the relatively quiet bao shop.

Four of them have a history of mental illness or are mentally-challenged, and three are in their 60s and 70s. A worker in her 20s oversees them.

Shopowner Sarah Tan, 49, says she needs only two workers to run the shop throughout the day.

"But I wanted to give a job to the rest of them so that they, too, can make a living," she says. They each earn about $1,000 to $1,200 a month.

Over the years, she has employed at least 50 less fortunate people in her business, which includes 13 other bun stalls, mostly in Ang Mo Kio and Yishun.

Besides employing those with a history of mental illness, she has also helped single mothers, ex-offenders and foreign workers who had been cheated by their agents.

Her home has also doubled up as a temporary shelter for the homeless, including foreign workers and unwed teenage mothers.

She moved from an Ang Mo Kio four-room HDB flat to Jalan Kuras last year to live above her bao shop, which is the central kitchen for her bao stalls.

While most of the people she helped have eventually found a place of their own, a few continue to live with her.

One of them is Agnes, an 18-month-old daughter of a young unwed mum, who has been living with Madam Tan since she was born.

Two other children - Samuel, 11, and Sabrinah, nine - have been sharing her home since 2008. Their father, a drug addict, is in jail.

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