Having to quit school for financial reasons at age 13 left Madam Jamila Abdul Karim with a fierce resolve that her children should pursue higher education.
She says: "I don't want my daughters to go through what I did. I want them to study and stay in a job. I want my daughters to go for master degrees and PhDs if possible."
Her five daughters, aged between 21 and 28, have, or are studying for, degrees and diplomas.
Madam Jamila, 53, who won Jamiyah Singapore's Exemplary Mother Award 2014 last weekend, relinquished her dream of being a lawyer after Primary 6, about two years after her father died.
To help support the family, which includes two older sisters, she took on jobs in catering, sewed curtains, cushions and bedsheets, and sold saris. She also worked two shifts at a factory.
After she got married and started her own family, her hardscrabble life continued. She stayed home to care for the children when they were young, while taking on sewing jobs. During their secondary school years, she was the main breadwinner, selling and catering food and working as a seamstress, as her husband suffered medical problems.
"We saw her multitasking, including looking after us," says the youngest daughter, NUS Life Sciences student Shamima Banu, who has a twin, trainee teacher Nashima Banu.
Ms Shamima, 21, nominated Madam Jamila for the Exemplary Mother Award, which has been running for 22 years now. For her strength of character, her daughters dub her the Iron Lady, after the late former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Madam Jamila is now a part-time seamstress who also runs a food stall with her 53-year-old husband, Mr Mohamed Ansari, at Tekka Centre. The family home is an executive HDB maisonette in Tampines.
The second daughter, human resources executive Nasreen Begum, 27, says: "We come from a very conservative family. Back in the village in Tamil Nadu in south India where my father came from, the girls get married at 16. My eldest sister and I got married at around 25.
"Most of our relatives want girls to marry early, and say there is no need to study. My mum is totally different."