When I was young, my family was very poor. Our home was very modest - one bedroom (my parents); one sitting room-cum-bedroom (my siblings and mine); a kitchen and a small bathroom and toilet. We led a minimalist life so we did not even possess a radio or a television. To watch television, we had to wait till Sunday because after church, we would visit my great grandmother and aunties. They had televisions so this was our only opportunity. Much later on, my father salvaged a radio and a black-and-white television. We were thrilled even though these were broken and, someone else's cast-offs but, he managed to restore them to working order.
We were eight in my family, including my parents. My father was the only breadwinner and, his monthly salary was only $400. I don't remember him ever getting a pay rise either. But, back then, you were lucky to have a regular job, so no-one dared to complain. My mother was the home-maker and, she had her hands full, taking care of my siblings and me but, she still did a brilliant job. It wasn't an easy household to run because my father's salary was never sufficient. So how did we go from rags to riches? It seemed impossible at the time but, this was how we managed.
We were an industrious family. To supplement our family income, my mother cleaned people's houses when my siblings and I, were little whilst my grandmother, stayed at home to look after us. We were a close-knit family and, this was important. Everyone chipped in to work together. At weekends, the whole family made umbrellas in our one and only communal sitting room-cum-bedroom. We got paid a meagre ten cents per completed umbrella - usually we sewed two-three dozens weekly. Later, my mother also took on baby-sitting a couple of the neighbours' children. My three youngest siblings and I, then aged eight to fourteen years, also had a regular job - cleaning our wealthy relatives' huge detached house, every Saturday. We had to wash the whole house inside out - every room, windows and, their massive frontage to scrubbing the outside drains! We were paid $6. After a year, this increased to $12. Child abuse and child slavery! But, no matter. We needed the money and, 'every dollar counts'.
Throughout my childhood, I remember living with austerity. Still, my mother ensured that we were properly fed and clothed. Of course, we had help. If not for my grandmother, our lives would have been worse. She was most generous. She later worked as a lived-in housekeeper and maid to our rich relatives. She was not paid much either but, she saved her money and, whenever we needed cash, she always helped out. I also remember a lot of hand-me-downs - clothes and schoolbooks, it was our norm. My aunt, my mother's cousin was good to us too. Every new year, she made new clothes for my siblings and me otherwise, I might never have gotten any new clothes, being a middle child. My eldest sister, too was very philanthropic because she sacrificed her academic pursuit to start work after completing her 'O' levels so that she could contribute half her salary to us. It was much appreciated.
Also, my parents' strength, determination and, their belief in giving my siblings and me, a good education, was very good insight because it enabled us better job opportunities. They also taught us good human values and life skills. We learnt to pull our weight from an early age and, to help ourselves and each other. Study-time was also an important routine for us to study and to do our homework. Fortunately, we were capable because we could not afford tuition anyway. I was an average student but some of my siblings were very smart and managed to get scholarships for university. Today, everyone of us have successful careers and are comfortably off. At the time though, I could not visualise the light at the end of the tunnel or us coming out the other side but, we did.
It was also our parents' love, support and encouragement and, our hard work and sheer determination to better ourselves and, to afford our parents a better life, that drove my siblings and me to successfully achieve our goals. I am truly grateful that we all made it, at last!
So, never say never because if you are motivated and, strive hard enough, things can turn around - from rags to riches. It may be difficult, arduous and sometimes painful but, it is not an impossibility if you want to succeed badly enough - my family is living proof.
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