The Light In Their Eyes
Forging friendships with social enterprises and nongovernmental organisations in the region has been a great reward, says Carrie Tan Hui Min.
Carrie Tan Hui Min, who founded social enterprise Daughters of Tomorrow, shares why she’s reaching out to disadvantaged women in Singapore and beyond. BY SYLVIA TOH PAIK CHOO
PHOTO ALECIA NEO
n a two-week volunteer trip to Kadapa, South India, in 2007, Singaporean Carrie Tan Hui Min arrived at Aarti Home, a shelter for abandoned girls, to learn of the death of a baby girl. That was Tan’s first experience with female infanticide.
Over the rest of her trip, she was confronted with more such cases. She saw bodies of baby girls dumped in wells behind clinics, and met helpless mothers who were unable to protect their daughters and had lost hope in building lives for themselves. So prevalent was the problem that the shelter had a little box, built into the wall of its entrance, where people could deposit babies they could not care for.
The experience hit her hard. Tan, now 33, returned home determined to make a difference to these women and eventually founded social enterprise Daughters of Tomorrow (DOT) in 2011.
DOT aims to enable livelihoods for underprivileged women in India and Singapore by providing skills training and employment. In India, it works with fair trade initiative Lalitha Women’s Cooperative to conduct workshops on sewing and embroidery for women in the Kadapa region, and sells the clothes, accessories and other products they make to First World countries.
Back home, DOT reaches out to women in low-income or troubled family situations through family service centres and social workers, and gets the women to take on small handicraft projects to supplement their income.
In 2012, Tan gave up her job as a headhunter and a monthly salary of more than $8,000, to work on DOT full time. She is now Executive Director of DOT. While she does miss the stable income, Tan finds that helping others to help themselves is the richer option. She says: “When you give a woman some aid, she becomes less helpless, and will then do everything to survive.
“Our work in India has created awareness amongst a diverse and international community of people and volunteers in Singapore about the vulnerabilities of women and girls in the underdeveloped parts of Asia.”
For Tan, one of the best rewards is the helping hands across the oceans. “We have forged friendships and partnerships with like-minded social enterprises and non-governmental organisations in India, Indonesia, Australia and Thailand along the way, exchanging learning, resources and contacts to further our common cause of enabling economic self-sufficiency for women,” she says.
Women in Singapore experience poverty differently from their counterparts in India. Tan says that comparing their plight is like comparing apples with oranges – abject poverty in India versus “invisible” poverty in Singapore.
“The women in India, some married at 13, are widowed at 20, and living on their own for 50 years. They cannot conceive of an alternate life. A state of despair is all they know,” she elaborates.
In Singapore, she comes across mothers living in rental blocks who are struggling to cope financially with many children. But these mothers can see the possibility of a better life, says Tan.
Regardless of the differences, DOT is focused on helping the women and their children to have better opportunities in life.
She is all too aware that hers is an uphill task and the victories will be small. But she is happy to celebrate tiny success stories, like that of a mother in Singapore who found work through DOT and was able to buy her son a sofa bed with $180 of her hard-earned money. She says: “When I see how the women smile, and the light return to their eyes, nothing is more uplifting.”
To see more smiles all-round, Tan has plans for DOT to take a more regional role in the next three to five years. The role will include forging collaborations among women’s organisations in Asia, and looking at how to integrate women into developing economies.
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