“My story starts from the day my mother-in-law kicked my (then) husband and I out of her house in September 2009. That was definitely my rock bottom. I was about four-months pregnant and didn’t have a place to stay, so we ended up living by the beach.
I remember that day very clearly because it happened on the morning of Hari Raya, which is a significant occasion for us Muslims. And believe it or not, I still don’t know why she kicked us out to this very day. I just knew she didn’t like me regardless of what I did to please her.
With our two kids, we went to Sembawang Beach as it was near Yishun where we previously lived. I told my ex-husband this was just a transitional period. We were going to take a few days off to figure things out, but those few days eventually turned into three months.
A typical day at the beach began with us waking up to a nice view of the sea, but as it was the rainy season in November and December, it would start pouring later in the day. Even if we were under a shelter, we’d still get drenched as the wind would blow the rain in.
Whenever lightning struck a tree branch, it would drop on our tent and completely demolish it, so we’d have to rebuild our shelter. We also became scavengers looking for leftover charcoal at barbeque stoves to cook our food.
Before I was homeless, I didn’t know there were so many other homeless people living on the beach. It was through my interactions with them that I learnt about the many different agencies that could help us, and I approached every single one of them for assistance.
I can never forget what a social worker told me after I poured my heart out to him. He said, ‘I’m sorry you’re going through this, but we have a long list of families waiting for a shelter. Why don’t you consider staying at a backpackers’ hostel in Geylang? It’s only $18 per day.’
I was six-months pregnant and very hormonal, and when I heard that comment, I dashed out of the room, went to the toilet and cried my eyes out. That was my lowest low. From that moment on, I gave up on trying to reach out to anyone for help.
But on 30th December 2009, I saw two strangers pushing trolleys containing tin biscuits on the beach. I found it so odd. Perhaps they were going fishing and wanted something to eat, but they approached every homeless family and started distributing tin biscuits to them.
When they approached my family at the shelter, one of the homeless uncles whom I had become acquainted with persuaded me to open up to them. I was a bit hesitant at first, but after some persuasion, I told them about the struggles that my family had went through.
The next morning on New Year’s Eve, I received calls from various agencies asking me where I was and if they could pick me up. And just like that, I went from being homeless to living in a shelter.
I only found out much later that those two strangers were actually Editors of The Online Citizen. After everything I had been through, they wrote in to the MP of my constituency, and that’s how my story had spread to the masses.
We’re friends now and I express my gratitude every opportunity I get; they’re actually sick of me thanking them all the time hahaha. But without them, my life wouldn’t have turned for the better. They were really blessings sent by God at a time when I needed them the most.
Today, I live in my own home with my family. I also remarried. I left my then husband because while I was working hard to better myself as a human being, he wasn’t willing to put in the work. He stopped being the breadwinner of the family, so I had to draw the line.
I now run a business called Virtual Assistance Singapore (VA-SG) as well. I stumbled into entrepreneurship out of desperation, and I started off by selling handcrafted items. From there, I became more ambitious and experimented with many different kinds of businesses.
My entrepreneurship journey has been full of ups and downs, but everything is a learning experience, and today, I’m grateful that VA-SG has been going strong since 2013.
Looking back upon my life, what I’ve really learnt is the importance of resilience; persist no matter what. I always ask my kids, ‘Do you remember what we went through? Never forget that. Because that period made you so much stronger.’
I keep on telling them, if they hit any roadblocks, be it in school or in their personal lives, find alternative ways to work around it. There is always a way, you just need to be wise and resourceful enough to see it. Everyone has a past, but we are not defined by it. We learn from it and become better.” – Liyana, 31
Interview by: Arman Shah