[A picture of my son, before everything changed]
Poverty has always been the norm for me.
My grandfather was poor, my father was poor, and for me, let’s just say I don’t expect to be swimming in money in my lifetime either.
But I am content with the frugal life I have. It has always suited me best.
During my childhood, I had an accident that changed my life forever.
It was a children’s game. We were playing rough, and then a friend accidentally shot a bamboo stick in my left eye.
That was the day I became partially blind.
After that, I stopped going to school. I started looking for jobs to make a living.
But being a Person with Disabilities (PWD), most of society still does not understand our community.
I was rejected by most employers. Some said I should stay home, and a few even told me that people like me were better off dead.
The truth is, I may be illiterate and partially blind, but I’m strong, hard working, and I learn quickly.
I really don’t need any donations or sympathy from others. Being given an opportunity or a chance is all I really need to prove myself.
It’s a hard reality, but I know I’m not the only one.
I was scammed by a trusted ‘friend’
[Image by Pexels]
One day, a trusted friend asked for help with a transaction at the bank — he needed my help to sign a contract.
I knew him for many years and I was very sure that he would never do anything to betray me. And so, with that rationale, I signed the papers.
I didn’t know what it was for, as I couldn’t read. That swipe of a pen ruined my life.
Turns out, the contract was for a credit card, and I had signed on as the guarantor. Before I knew it, my friend had racked up RM30,000 of debt and disappeared before I could get a hold of him.
Since the bank couldn’t find him, I was saddled with the debt and I had to pay it off myself.
I was begging on the streets
[Image by Pexels]
It all happened so quickly. Before I knew it, the house I shared with my family was taken away as I couldn’t pay the debt.
My wife and son had to move in with my parents. All the while, I desperately tried my best to find a job to feed ourselves.
At one point, my wife and I made the decision to give up our son to a distant relative to take care of, because I could barely feed him.
I was heartbroken. I thought bitterly, “I am a failure as a father.”
Eventually, without my family’s knowledge, I resorted to begging on the streets. I had no choice — no one would give me a job and I had to feed the family.
Occasionally, I would also offer people foot massages at rock bottom prices. But even then, it was hardly enough to buy a meal.
It was humiliating, because you are holding strangers’ feet every day. In the eyes of society, being a foot masseuse is amongst the lowest jobs out there, next to garbage man and toilet cleaner.
It was tough, but I grit my teeth and did it. And till today, I never told my family the truth.
The day I was given another chance
One day, a government official reached out to me as I was a registered PWD.
They told me about an entrepreneurship program that was allocated for PWDs and the marginalized.
They asked if I was interested to join.
At that point, it felt like I was a drowning man who was given a lifebuoy.
I knew that I had to make a change in my life. And so, with nothing to lose, I went for it.
Honestly, this program truly changed my life.
The people there did not just see me as a PWD, but as a person, and they truly helped me believe that I was worthy of running a business on my own.
They taught me everything, from starting a business, to managing it, and how to market it, as well as how to manage my finances.
[Traditional Cupping therapy, one of the treatments I now offer]
With the proper business knowledge, I decided to pursue starting a massage business.
I set up a small tent by the roadside along with some chairs, and I started out offering my services for foot massages.
Eventually, people started asking if I offered other massages such as full-body, neck and shoulders, and so I agreed.
I started handing out flyers and with what little profit I made, I started saving them and learned to track my expenses.
Little by little, I started expanding my stall, then I upgraded into a shop.
A few years later, I now own several massage parlours and even manage to provide jobs to others. Never in my life did I ever imagine I’d be where I am today.
Now I focus on sharing the blessings
About 10 years after I took on the debt, I finally paid off the final instalment.
I have never felt as free as the day I signed the last check to my debt. That heavy burden has been finally lifted, and I was free!
I got my son back, and we are reunited as a family once again.
With my improved financial status, I managed to upgrade our home and send my children to better schools, giving them the education I didn’t have at their age.
What to do if you are in the same position:
If you are in a tight position in your life, here are the lessons I’ve learned from coming out the other side:
- Be humble — Don’t turn away a low-status job if it puts food on the table.
- Take every opportunity — I knew nothing about starting a business, but taking that opportunity to learn had truly changed my life.
- Never forget the struggle — Every day, I am grateful for the life I live now. I will never forget what it’s like to beg on the street.
- You can start from nothing – Its possible to start all over again.
- Believe that you are capable – Only you can pull yourself out of trouble. Keep a positive mindset, and always find a flipside to the negative thoughts.
Being given that one opportunity truly changed my life.
Since then, I made it a mission to help others by providing them a job, regardless of their disabilities.
Thanks to the blessings of God, I’ve also started donating rice and other daily goods to the hungry as a reminder of my days on the streets.
It’s never too late to start again. Wherever you are in life, know that you will get through this.
For more stories like this, read: I Was Broke and Divorced at 38. Here’s How I Survived and What Being Jobless & Broke Taught Me About Life