SINGAPORE: When her husband contracted COVID-19 and her family was quarantined, Ms May Lim’s world was turned upside down – they lost their only source of income and her husband’s condition soon took a turn for the worse.
But two months on, she is hoping her new online business will take off and even help others who are in financial difficulty during the coronavirus outbreak.
May’s husband, Constant Chiew, was a taxi driver who had driven an Indonesian passenger from Changi Airport to a hospital in mid-March. The passenger later tested positive for COVID-19 and died due to complications from the disease.
A day after that trip from Changi Airport, Mr Chiew was told by the Ministry of Health to quarantine himself. Three days later, he came down with a high fever. He was diagnosed with the coronavirus on Mar 18.
Soon after that, the 63-year-old was moved to the intensive care unit and put on a ventilator.
All this was devastating for May, 52, who told CNA that she could barely make herself get out of bed in the initial days after her husband fell ill.
“On the fourth or fifth day, he almost passed on and I was quarantined, I could not visit him at all. That was … so difficult for me,” she said, tearing whenever she spoke about her husband.
“But I forced myself to wake up. I told myself: I cannot go on like that, I need to do something.”
These events also affected her younger daughter, 13-year-old Clarabelle, who had to ask for a deferment of an online enrichment course that she was taking with All Gifted High School. And that was how the school’s founder, Ms Pamela Lim, got to know about the family’s situation.
Ms Lim, a businesswoman turned educator, had been running courses on entrepreneurship and coaching aspiring business owners for years. When the COVID-19 outbreak intensified, the 54-year-old decided to focus on helping people whose livelihoods have been hit.
Her only condition was that they have to implement the business idea that was generated during her course. Ms May Lim and her elder daughter, Claudia, joined Pamela’s class in April.
READ: COVID-19: Circuit breaker might be lifted when community cases fall to zero or single digits over sustained period
During her quarantine, May had difficulty getting fresh produce and food. She also found the offerings online inadequate, and that gave her a business idea to connect consumers with wet market stallholders who may be struggling during the “circuit breaker” period.
Pamela, whose parents ran a market stall when she was young, saw the potential and decided not just to coach them but to invest in the business as well.
A month on, their website Claude & Clari is online and has started taking orders since May 1. The hardest part was persuading the stall owners to trust her, a total stranger, May said.
“Some were very unfriendly because they didn't know me, they thought that I was trying to cheat them, or whatever, but some were friendly,” she said.
While she had help from Pamela to set up the website, May and her daughter are currently a two-woman operation - ordering and packing vegetables, seafood, meat and dried goods to their customers. The groceries are then delivered by taxi or private-hire drivers in need of work at this time.
The fresh produce is currently from Geylang Serai Market but they plan to expand to other heritage markets such as Chinatown Market and Tekka Market, she said. While May is aware that Tekka Market has recently gone online, she said she does not see it as “competition”, but as a sign that this was a niche that has potential for growth.
READ: Tekka market stalls turn to live-streaming to sell fresh produce, as people stay home amid COVID-19
With some guidance from Pamela, May said she hopes to make her first online business a success and eventually help people in a similar situation by offering them freelance jobs.
“At first I had no confidence because I have been a housewife for eight to nine years, but she encouraged me,” May said. “My vision is that this business is not just for my family. I hope I will be able to help other people too.”
The family is hoping that Mr Chiew, who is now virus-free, can recover in a few weeks’ time. He is still in intensive care due to damage to his lungs, but may be able to breathe without a ventilator soon, said May, who visits him in hospital every day.
Given his serious condition, he is unlikely to be able to return to work soon.
May added: “He said when he’s discharged, he will be a burden to us. But I said ‘no, what is a family for?’ He’s not a burden, definitely.”