By the time she was 25, she had lost both her parents.
Turning her loss into a source of strength and inspiration, she wanted to help other women disadvantaged in life.
When she was awarded $2,000 in recognition of her volunteer work in 2013, she used that money to help more women to be financially independent.
For the past two years, Madam N Kumari Devi, 53, has been working on Project Sew, her initiative to help women who were unable to work.
They include single parents, the disabled and those who have to provide all-day care for their loved ones.
The project gives these women an opportunity to earn a living by supplying them with a sewing machine and provides them with materials and sewing lessons.
Madam Kumari had received $2,000 for being nominated in the 21st Exemplary Mother Award, organised by Jamiyah Singapore's Women and Family Department.
Madam Kumari, who is married with three children aged 15, 18 and 24, received the award for her efforts in volunteering.
Despite juggling family commitments and a busy career as a transport operations manager, she has been volunteering for more than 10 years.
Madam Kumari's father died from a stroke when she was 15.
This took a toll on her mother, who became stressed with juggling jobs to support the family.
Madam Kumari, who remembered her working till late almost every day, said her mother never took care of herself because she was too busy.
She died from a heart attack when Madam Kumari was 25.
When asked what drives her to help the less fortunate, Madam Kumari said she was inspired by her mother.
She said: "There is no way to tell you how hard it is when you lose both your parents so soon.
"As someone who has gone through so much, I understand how hard life can be."
During the project's official launch at the opening of the Nee Soon East Community Centre on Aug 1, Madam Kumari said that Project Sew sold about 40 tissue box covers.
She reasoned that every family needed one, which would help with the sales. Each cover was sold for $10, and about $400 was made at the official launch.
Former MP for Nee Soon Group Representation Constituency, Mr Patrick Tay, who attended the launch, said: "Project Sew is a very good, very proactive initiative that helps to build the kampung spirit that we want to have to engage the community."
Besides spending her winnings on starting the project two years ago, Madam Kumari contacted different organisations and coordinated resources from several companies.
They included electrical equipment company, Brother, who sold her the sewing machines, and textiles supplier Spotlight, who supplied the sewing materials.
Unable to work
So far, the project has three beneficiaries - middle-aged women who were unable to work.
Madam Kumari contacted them through the Ministry of Social and Family Development's social assistance group ComCare, where she volunteers.
One of them, Madam Lim Bee Hwa, 56, has been in a wheelchair for more than 15 years.
Before Project Sew, Madam Lim could not work and had to depend on social services to support her.
Madam Lim, who lives in a studio apartment and is an unemployed divorcee, helped to make the tissue box covers during the project's launch. From the sales, she earned $140.
She said: "I was depressed and there was nothing to occupy my time.
"But now I have been given another chance."
Madam Kumari said she wants to help more women in ComCare but she is limited by her lack of time and funds.
"I have all this desire but I do not have enough time and money. I have been doing this by myself, and I want to do more, but I cannot," she said.
Those keen on helping Project Sew can reach Madam Kumari at 62570446 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was first published on September 15, 2015.
Get The New Paper for more stories.