Happy International Women’s Day! This year, we celebrate 10 Amazing Wonder Women in our network who live life to the fullest by supporting their families and working hard, as well as being advocates for the community.
The strength of these women will inspire you with their stories of balancing motherhood, chasing their dreams, and becoming role models for their children.
1) Auto-immune disease doesn’t stop Anna Ng from running a one-woman bakery
As a 35-year-old business owner and mother of 2 little cheeky children (her words, not mine!), Anna has her hands full most days. She has built a successful home-based cakery, Anna’s Cupcakes, which has garnered 10,000 Facebook likes in 6 years and a steady following.
But life decided to throw her a curveball in 2008, when she found out she had lupus (a chronic auto-immune disease) right before her daughter was born.
Being the strong and positive woman she is, she didn’t let it get her down and continues on with her passion for baking and taking care of her children. She is on medication to control her health condition, which she will live with for the rest of her life as there is no cure.
When asked how she balances motherhood and a business which she handles ALONE from beginning to end (baking, delivery, customer service, marketing, buying supplies), Anna says she take care of her children during the day, and at night she bakes her cakes. The self-taught baker adjusts her timing around her children, and makes use of every free time she has for the business.
Being a sole runner of a business is never easy, but Anna’s optimistic attitude must surely help.
“It can be challenging when there are demanding customers and too many orders, but I strive to improve by listening to feedback from customers. I believe women should have independent income and skills to move forward in life. You will never know what you’re capable of if you don’t try.” – Anna Ng
2) Yap Sook Yee champions awareness for spinal muscular atrophy
Mothers are amazing people because they are often a child’s first champion. Sook Yee’s youngest son Branden was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) at 13 months of age. The rare neuromuscular disease affects the nerves which control movement and respiration, meaning Branden is not able to sit or stand without support.
Sook Yee tried several pre-schools but was unable to get her son enrolled in any, even though he was intellectually on par with children his age. She was finally able to get him into the English Champ pre-school run by Aileen Hoe (story below).
She also wants Brendan to express himself creatively as well, and decided to let him try painting as it also helps to increase strength in his arms. Since August last year, Sembilan Art Residency has been organising art jamming sessions with Branden and his family at their home.
Not only is Sook Yee a champion for her son, she is also a strong advocate for spreading awareness of SMA. She is currently serving as the Vice-President of the Malaysian Rare Disorders Society (MRDS), a non-profit organization that helps families affected by rare disorders. She intends to help parents deal with the challenging experience of raising a child with a rare disorder, teaching them how to live a normal life and not be affected by stigma.
“What we wish most to do is help parents deal with the experience without feeling overwhelmed. There is still a stigma in society and parents do feel embarrassed. We want to share it is possible to live life like a normal family.” – Yap Sook Yee
Yap and her husband, Edmund Lim, also founded weCAREjourney, a platform to improve access between the disabled community and care providers. She is a constant supporter and pillar of strength for other mothers and caregivers, encouraging a positive atmosphere for disabled children by championing their abilities instead of focusing on their disabilities, and that makes her a Wonder Woman.
3) Aileen Hoe leads the way to provide education for all
At the age of 15, Aileen realized her love for teaching when her Mandarin teacher needed an English tutor for her son. She readily volunteered and was taken by the experience when she realized the impact she had on the boy.
However, she didn’t initially pursue education as she wanted to experience the “glamorous” world of finance and banking first. A few years after working in the field she felt that her true calling was indeed in education.
Her passion for education runs deep, which is what led her to found English Champ in 2001 (her mom is a partner). The school encourages a positive learning atmosphere where everyone is a ‘champion’. It became so popular that parents wanted their children there all day, so she eventually expanded to include a team of teachers so they can teach other subjects as well.
Her pre-school also recently accepted Sook Yee’s son Brendan (story above) as a student.
“I always believed that education should not be restricted to the privileged only. When Sook Yee turned up at English Champ to enroll her son, I was struck by her story of how no one would accept him. I had to check with my team first as we were unsure if we were ready to take him on, but we soon found out it was not difficult at all. He is intellectually able and that should be reason enough for him to deserve an education just like his peers.”
She is also an advocate for education during her free time. Aileen works with a few other foundations to engage teachers and sponsors for educational materials, and then they reach out to deserving and underprivileged homes. Along with her team, they often visit these homes to give the children free teaching sessions.
As a mother of a 7-year-old, along with running the education centre, life can get busy. She manages by taking her daughter along for her charitable events and exposing her to the real world as much as possible. They also frequently exercise together. “There are times I have to juggle things or sacrifice my leisure time for my child, but that’s what motherhood is all about.” she says.
4) Aziun Ibel gives 100% to family, friends, and work
This Wonder Woman was nominated by her colleague and friend Stefanie Yau. She looks up to Aziun for the strong role and support she has provided her at work as she is still new there. “Aziun takes care of everyone. She will do anything to help a friend in need or rescue a kitten. She has stuck up for me numerous times at work,and she always makes sure everyone gets home safe when we work late.” Stefanie said.
The accounts supervisor from Johor Bahru has two children, aged 8 and 10 years old. She says motherhood has changed her in more ways than one. “When we have a family, we think twice about things, especially our needs. We always put our children and family first. This has made me a less selfish person. Life is challenging so we must do our best to be a good mother.”
“Whatever you do, give a 100%. At work, I give 100% to my colleagues and my duties. When I leave work at 6pm, I go home and give 100% to my family.”
5) Ericka Krystalyn becomes a corporate trainer with a Masters degree (and has two kids along the way)
Our next Wonder Woman is proof that being a mother doesn’t mean you have to give up on your dreams. As a 35-year-old mother of two small children, Ericka has worked hard both at home and in career to pursue her dream of becoming a corporate trainer.
“I previously studied language, and have always aspired to become a trainer. When I was on a 2-year contract as cabin crew for Singapore Airlines, I always admired the trainer and wished I could be one too. I decided to follow my passion by leveraging on my knowledge of language. I worked with the Selangor Human Resources Development Centre and became an external trainer for them, where I experienced working with clients of all ages.”
Following her calling, Ericka decided to improve her skills and enrolled in a Masters course. She did all this while raising two young babies! She began her Masters after delivering her first child, and finished her thesis right before her second child’s due date. The challenge was made more difficult when her husband’s job relocated him to Johor Bahru, and then back to KL a few years later. But with help from her sister, she persevered.
“There were frustrating and difficult moments, chasing my dream and also raising my children. I balanced motherhood and my career by making sure I established a routine for my children. During nap time, I worked. I sent them to playschool so I could have more time to pursue my career. I hope to be a role model to them to live out their dreams and follow their calling.” – Ericka Krystalyn
6) Grace Tan spends her weekends capturing other couple’s most important moments
Being a photographer can be a grueling job. It’s so much more than just snapping photos. You have to be physically agile, maintain customer relationships, have a keen eye, and also have time for the technical aspects such as editing and touching up. Photographers have to work long hours and often weekends for events such as weddings and parties, often on their feet most of the time.
Grace Tan, founder of Stories.my, is no stranger to the challenging world of photography. In 2006 she began freelancing as a photographer, joining forces with her husband’s company Integricity Visuals in 2008. In 2010, the brand Stories.my was born. She began to take wedding and family shoots more seriously, which is her expertise. Her friendly manner and uncanny ability to capture magical moments led to her company becoming successful quickly. As a mother of a 2 and 4-year-old, how does she manage?
She said, “Thank God I have a strong team behind me. I have 3 full-time staff which gives me flexibility and time to myself so I don’t have to do everything myself. With a strong team behind me, I have decided to be more hands-on with my kids.”
“No matter how busy I am, I make it a point to work half-days on Mondays and Wednesdays to spend time with my children as I often work on the weekends. Whatever free time I have, it’s for them.” – Grace Tan
7) Grace Yong runs tuition centre for 22 years, but is always there for her daughters
In the 80s, shortly after marriage, kindergarten teacher Grace Yong relocated to Kuching from Kuala Lumpur with her family. Despite not knowing anyone and finding it difficult adjusting to a brand new environment, she decided to open her own tuition centre, Pertama Tuition Centre in Kuching, which she still runs to this day.
Grace is so much more than a teacher; she is an educator. English is her main subject but her passion lies in teaching and using careful methods to ensure the students truly understand and grasp what they are learning.
She believes that being able to understand and enjoy learning, rather than memorising, is the key to education. She accepts all kinds of students, no matter their behavioral difficulties or challenge. In fact, she takes special interest in these “difficult” students, often doing individual and personalised learning sessions with them.
“What is amazing about my mother is that although she worked full-time at the centre, she always had lunch and dinner ready for us. She would go back and forth to the house and centre to make sure everything was in order. We never felt her absence as she was always there for us a mother as well as there for her students. She never complained about the long hours or difficulties she had balancing motherhood and a career. Looking back, I have no idea how she did it, but she did.” – Carol, daughter
Carol recalls how even during her studies in KL, she would bump into people who knew her mother, parents of students who went to the tuition centre. They often sang praise about how nurturing and attentive she was and really helped their children.
Now in her 60s, Grace has been the rock of the family as well as her business during tough times such as when her husband went through a triple bypass and needed extra care. She only took time off to attend her daughter’s graduation or if she was really unwell. “Once she’s at the centre, it’s really difficult to get her to leave!” Carol says with a laugh.
Her mother’s ambition and drive has inspired Carol to take on her own passion full-time, which is photography. She has recently began her own business Photos by Carol Yong. “My mother has shown me that women can pursue their dreams anytime. anywhere, if they have true passion and desire to succeed. Her hard work made our lives easier as her contributions allowed my sister and I to complete our education overseas. She is my superhero.”
8) Katie Loke continues to expand her cooking school with a baby on the way
After completing her Master’s degree, Katie Loke made the bold decision to start T-Garden Cooking School instead of remaining in a 9-to-5 job in the corporate world. She explained, “This greatly reduced the time wasted in commuting to the KL City center and allow me more time with my family members. Today, even with my first baby on the way, we are looking forward to expand the school. I will always do my best to balance between my family and business.”
Even though she was no longer working full-time, running T-Garden Cooking School as both the administrator and teaching chef required a lot of her time. To balance between business and family, she said she will do her best to avoid anything related to work after working hours. She is passionate about cooking and the service industry.
“A cooking school as an important part of the service industry. To provide good service to our students and to continue improving our course content on a daily basis is tough but necessary. This is challenging because people are affected by real world events and have moods. I try to stay focused and remind myself and my team that every students deserved the best that we can afford, and we wanted to make sure all students leave the class happy and satisfied with their creations and knowledge they have acquired.” – Katie Loke
Katie also talked about something that everyone should be mindful of, no matter how busy we are. “We must make it a habit to visit our parents regularly. Some quality time, a hug and kiss before leaving their house (at the end of a visit) is worth more than anything. As a parent, we need to appreciate the love from our own parents. In this way, I also wish that the next generation can appreciate what we have done for them.”
She said it’s important for women to reward themselves from time to time. At the end of the day, she often rewards herself with a good movie or dessert for being able to maintain her service standard throughout the day.
Since she is expected her first baby in April, a dream she and her husband has had since 2010, she has thought about slowing down work-wise. Instead, she has decided to expand the business by getting more staff. “A lot of delegation and training has been done and surprisingly, the sales has doubled during the last 8 months.”
When asked how she will cope once the baby arrives, Katie said bravely, “Currently, we have not engaged any nanny yet. I will try to raise him without a nanny and see if we can cope with it. Let’s see how it goes!”
9) Reena Joseph doesn’t let 5 make-up appointments a day stop her from making time for family
Reena Joseph is the owner of Rihanna Giuseppe, a beauty and bridal studio in Bangsar. She has worked on models, celebrities, and several brides, and is one of the top make-up artists in the industry.
Reena initially studied Engineering, but during her studies in London, found that make-up was her true passion. She took up a beauty course part-time while working on her degree. Eventually, she decided to go into make-up full time, and she has never looked back.
34-year-old Reena has two daughters, a 5-year old and a 9-month old baby. No matter what, she gives her all both at work and at home. As most weddings are held over the weekend, she is always busy during Saturdays and Sundays, sometimes having up to 5 appointments a day. Despite having a full life with family and work, she takes time to constantly improve her craft by attending courses and workshops.
When asked how she manages her time, she reveals that the key is organisation.”I am basically a very very organised person. I give my 100% to my work and 100% at home. I plan my calendar ahead and make sure there’s no sudden plans unless its an emergency. I strive to always stay focused.”
“I’m very clear to identify what is my passion. By putting my all in it, I get the reward for it. I feel lucky and I have faith in God. I feel my success is not at the expense of breaking someone down or taking it away or snatching it or badmouthing someone. I just do it through my own effort and my mum’s prayers, trying to do the right thing with integrity and it’s paid off. I worked very hard for all that I have, it didn’t all just landed on my plate. But I’m not so full of myself that I don’t see with humility. I’ve been lucky and I’ve been blessed. I take that and try to give back as much as I can.” – Reena Joseph
Reena advises other mothers to always be organized and be prepared. “Plan your menu for the coming week, finish your grocery shopping over the weekend, get things ready the night before. Delegate chores with your partner.
With all that busy working mums have to do, romance and social life can often take a backseat. “It’s important to not let the burden of everyday routine snuff out the romance in your life. Make time for alone time with your partner. Also, make time to have some fun with your friends! Have your hubby stay home once in a while while you go for coffee and catch up with your girlfriends.”
Reena says that her life definitely changed from the moment she saw the two lines on the pregnancy stick. “However, that is not a bad thing. My life has changed in amazing ways the likes of which I could never even think of before. I am not the first on my list anymore, I have learned to appreciate silence, and I am more gentle with myself.”
10) Jes Min Lua founded and runs an Internet startup while juggling motherhood
As a full-time working mother of a one-year-old and entrepreneur, she constantly inspires her colleagues by being 100% committed to work, even showing up when she is under the weather.
Always thinking of others and putting everyone’s needs before her own, she needed to be persuaded by our Editor before even agreeing to be on the list, even though the article was her idea in the first place!
We could not leave her out of this list as she is a constant inspiration to women for striking a balance between motherhood and being a driving force behind Recommend.my as General Manager. She said, “I believe that being a mother, a wife, and a business person has to revolve around life – how we want to live our life, what impact or influence we want to have on the people and world around us.
“We spend most of our waking hours at work, and if your work doesn’t have meaning or impact then you will always wonder if your time is better spent elsewhere. But, if your work is exciting, challenging, stressful, meaningful, then you will not ask yourself ‘am I having work-life balance?’. Instead, you will ask yourself ‘I only have a limited amount of time everyday, how do I create the highest impact and influence on my family, friends, colleagues, customers, and everyone else around me? How do I leave the world a better place?'” – Jes Min
She says she faces the challenge everyday of prioritising what is important and what is urgent. “My to-do list is constantly overflowing (just ask my husband and colleagues) and many things do slip through cracks.
I think too many women punish themselves by obsessing about the things they didn’t get right – the meals that weren’t perfect, the laundry that wasn’t done, the friends that wasn’t kept in touch with, the customer that was lost. They forget things that DID go well – the healthy (although naughty) baby, the husband that helps (as best as he can), the career which allows her to learn and grow and put money on the table.”
Just one week after giving birth, Jes Min was back to work at the start-up, even raising US$1 million during a seed round led by Gobi Partners. As a busy working mother herself, she says that one of the reasons she was inspired to start this company is because it is a platform that allows busy mothers to get help while they juggle everything in life.
She says her life has changed tremendously before she had her daughter. “Before, I could just drop everything and go and do an MBA, or work in Africa, or take an exciting overseas assignment! Now, everything gets time-boxed – 2 hours for grocery shopping, 10 minutes for showers, 8 minutes for quick chats with friends while I drive home from work. But in a way, I’ve learnt to really prioritise and apply the 80-20% rule, and find the most efficient way to achieve even more impact. So in a way, becoming a mother has made me become a much better professional as well!”