When her baby daughter was just three months old, Ms Nabila Shahood Din, decided to divorce her husband.
He was constantly in jail for various offences and he could not hold down a job – not even odd jobs – in the three years they were married.
Ms Nabila was only 21 but she was clear on this. “He was not responsible as a husband and a father. I saw no future with him,” she said.
When she initiated the divorce, he made her settle his $10,000 debt, to pay for the motorcycle he wanted and for other expenses.
The first two years after her divorce were the bleakest period in her life, Ms Nabila, now 27, recalled.
To make ends meet, she worked three jobs. In the morning, she cleaned people’s houses. In the afternoon, she tutored primary school children and, in the evening, she was a debt management officer for SP Services, handling calls from customers who were behind in their utilities payments.
With the tutoring and debt management job, she could work from home to care for her baby. When she needed an extra pair of hands, her mother pitched in.
But even with three jobs, the O-level holder earned less than $2,000 a month. It was barely enough to cover expenses, let alone pay off her ex-husband’s debt.
“I felt very helpless, depressed and lost,” she said.
Ms Nabila came from a humble background. Her father, a cleaning contractor, died of a heart attack when she was a toddler, and her mother then had to work three jobs as a cleaner to make ends meet. Ms Nabila is the youngest of three children.
At the age of 18, she married for love and sees now that she was naive. She said: “My father died when I was very young and I was looking for love. I felt my ex-husband could love and protect me.”
Over time, she realised that love alone could not keep the marriage going. Their money woes weighed on her and she became increasingly frustrated at being the sole breadwinner, working as a public relations officer, among other jobs, before her divorce.
But even after she had freed herself of her husband, she was still trapped by her situation. “I did not tell any of my friends what I went through as I felt embarrassed,” she recalled. “Some of my friends had just graduated and found good jobs. Others were living happily and I was working as a cleaner.”
Her fortunes changed when she saw a Facebook ad by a training academy offering to teach women how to earn extra income in the beauty trade. She signed up for a short course on how to carry out facials, among other things.
With that skill under her belt, she worked more than 12 hours a day and earned $12,000 in two months, going to her clients’ homes to do facials. It enabled her to clear her debt.
For three years, she worked as a freelance beautician. Then, about two years ago, she realised she had a knack for listening to and connecting with others and she branched into life coaching.
She teaches women personal development skills, such as dealing with their emotions and learning to love and accept themselves. She also teaches them beauty skills so that they, too, can earn extra income. Her clients include single mothers and abused wives, as well as working professionals looking for alternative careers or extra spending money.
Ms Nabila has come a long way in six years. She has earned enough to take her mother and grandmother to Mecca on a mini pilgrimage or umrah, a lifelong dream of theirs, every year since 2015. Each trip cost about $10,000 for the three of them.
In 2016, she was invited to the Business Expert Forum, organised by the Entrepreneurship Students Club of Harvard Business School, to share her experiences at the prestigious Harvard University in the United States.
The emotions of pride and humility were overwhelming then.
She said: “After my talk, I ran to the toilet to cry. In my audience were doctors, chief executives and millionaires and I felt very small in front of them.”
What got her through her toughest times, she said, were a desire to not give up and the encouragement of her close-knit family.
“My advice to other women is – don’t give up on yourself. Learn new skills and knowledge.
“I came out of my comfort zone and took a course which changed my life,” she said.
“Many women feel they cannot do this or that as they have to stay at home and look after their children. I would tell them, don’t use your children as an excuse not to be successful. In fact, our children should be our biggest motivation for success.”