Monday September 24, 2012
Gutsy Ea Siew Chun takes it all in her stride
By S. INDRAMALAR
Life throws one challenge after another, but one gutsy lady takes it all in her stride.
EA SIEW Chun is no stranger to adversity. When she was just two, Ea contracted polio, causing her to lose the use of both her legs. It was devastating news for her parents who ran a grocery store in Malacca. Unable to cope with their eldest child’s disability, Ea’s parents sent her to live with an aunt and uncle in Kuala Lumpur soon after she was diagnosed.
Though her aunt and uncle cared well for her, Ea felt there was a gaping hole in her life, especially when she had to stop schooling after Year Two as her caretakers found it too difficult to cope.
For a vivacious little girl with an active mind and imagination, it was frustrating not to be able to join her siblings, cousins and her peers at school or even to play with them in the evenings.
“I used to sit at the gate of my aunt’s house, looking at all the children walking to and from school, and I felt really sad that I couldn’t be one of them. I remember asking my mother what she had planned for me. After all, my siblings were all in school ... what about me? My mother said she’d given me life, food and shelter and that was all she could do. I was disappointed. My parents weren’t educated and I guess they could not cope. But I had dreams for myself. Even though I knew it would be hard without an education, I held on to my dreams,” recalls Ea, 46, who runs her own tailoring business, ES Chun Alteration, at the Kelana Jaya LRT station in Petaling Jaya.
When she was nine, Ea was sent to a centre for the disabled in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur, where she stayed for two years. The centre had classes for school-going children and Ea worked hard to learn to read and write Chinese and English.
“I would ask (the) people (at the centre) to teach me all the time and I also started correspondence with pen-pals from around the world. The more I wrote, the more I improved,” says Ea who is a wheelchair user.
Despite the many setbacks she faced, Ea was undaunted. She wanted to make the most of her two years there and was willing to work hard to learn as much as she could even though she had no idea what opportunities life had in store for her.
When she returned to her aunt’s home after the two years at the centre, Ea once again found herself facing a dead end – cooped up at home while her peers went to school.
“You know, I even thought of killing myself at one point. Thankfully, one of my aunt’s neighbours visited me regularly and gave me support. She spoke to me about God and keeping faith and it gave me strength. I thought, surely God had some plans for me. Instead of asking ‘Why me?’, I started to think more positively,” says Ea.
A few years later when her parents moved to Kuala Lumpur to open a mini market, Ea moved back with her family to help out at the shop. Admittedly, it was a difficult time for Ea as she’d been separated from her family for so long.
“I was upset and maybe a little resentful. I could see all the opportunities that were given to my siblings. They were all still studying and had a future ahead of them. I was just the cashier at the mini market. So I ran away,” Ea relates.
She found herself a job as an apprentice with a tailor in Kuala Lumpur. She started with small jobs – hemming and sewing on zips. Gradually, she learnt to cut and after six months, she learnt the basics of sewing. After five years of apprenticeship, Ea decided to set out on her own. She rented a room in a house and started her own tailoring business, sewing mainly traditional attire like baju kurung to a small clientele.
Things seemed to be looking up for her. In 1995, Ea fell in love and got married. Her husband was also a paraplegic and together they began to make a life for themselves.
But life had more challenges to throw at Ea. In 1996, just a year after she got married, her husband fell ill and passed away. Ea admits that the experience almost broke her. She kept to herself and for two years she barely made any attempt to go out and meet people. Thankfully, Ea had good friends who never gave up on her.
“They encouraged me to go for counselling. I did and it helped me deal with my grief. I eventually became a counsellor myself. I think that because of all the challenges I faced personally, I was able to empathise with people and so I enjoyed counselling,” she says.
Ea picked herself up and started working with the Beautiful Gate Foundation for the Disabled. After a year or so, her friends encouraged her to resume her tailoring business which she gave up following the loss of her husband.
With their help, Ea found a space at the former Atria Shopping Centre in Damansara Jaya, Petaling Jaya, to operate her business. She handled mainly alterations and handicraft.
Business was good but what she enjoyed most was the opportunity to meet people.
“Before I opened up my shop, I used to feel that I’d lost out on life because I didn’t complete my schooling. I wasn’t happy or confident about myself and I still thought life had been unfair to me. But through all the people I met, and my customers – many of whom became friends – I began to change the way I looked at life. I realised that if life doesn’t present us with opportunities, we can and should go out and look for them. Opportunities are always there. Education is important but it isn’t the only way to be successful or happy in life,” says Ea.
After eight years operating her shop at Atria, Ea had to shut down her business last year as the shopping centre was to be torn down for development. Though sad to leave, Ea’s new outlook has enabled her to see this as “just another challenge” she has to face and learn from.
Earlier this year, Ea set up shop at the Kelana Jaya LRT station. Her main goal at the moment is to build up a customer base once again.
“Moving means I have to find new customers. But this is a good location ... people can drop off their clothes to be altered on their way to work and pick it up on their way home!” she says, with a smile.