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Rags-to-riches entrepreneur gives back to underprivileged
Published on: Saturday, March 11, 2017

EXTREME hardship had taught Teo Lim Lai to be patient and to be grateful for everything that life has to offer.

More than a decade ago, the now successful 55-year-old entrepreneur, his wife and their five children spent about two weeks living underneath a flight of stairs of a shop building.

“We were left homeless in 2001 after we were evicted by the landlord and we were living with ants, mosquitoes and venomous creepy-crawlies like scorpions for almost two weeks,” he said.

And to make it worse, the local community even accused Teo of selling his children for RM5,000 each to fund his gambling and liquor consumption.

But all the bad talks and negative vibes did not dishearten him and he tried to sell boiled peanuts and eggs in entertainment outlets around Labuan town but his efforts proved fruitless.

Teo who originated from Sipitang had migrated to Labuan in 1975 and he only went to school until Year Six.

When he was younger, Teo had done numerous odd jobs like working at a coffee shop, cigarette selling agents, selling vegetables and traditional medicine as well as working in a legal firm.

He married Tan Geok Lin in 1986 and they were blessed with nine children but four of them died when they were young.

Their plight reached its peak when they were evicted from their home in 2001.

Eventually, things took a brighter turn in 2009 when Labuan Corporation provided him a lot in the night market along with some start-up aid like a power generator set, a canopy and a laptop.

From the small business start-up of selling mobile phone and computer accessories, he expanded his business by opening a shop in 2012 where currently he has seven branches of shops in Labuan.

“What I have now is not mine but it is God’s and I will never forget to be concerned about the needy.

“I am forever grateful for my accomplishments and I thank the government through the Labuan Corporation which had assisted me and gave me a priceless opportunity to open a business.

“I am also indebted to the people of Labuan who had always supported my business as well as the Community Welfare Department which had provided aid for my family.”

Feeling obligated to give back to the local community, Teo has opened a mobile phone repair training centre to offer an avenue for the youths in Labuan to sharpen their skills so that they too, can generate income from them.

“It started when an officer from the Skills Development Department visited my shop and offered my company to provide a training centre.

“After I sent my children to undergo a course in GiatMara, our training centre was given the permission to take young students, especially those who are underprivileged,” he said.

To date, his training centre has produced a number of skilled students who obtained Malaysian Skills Certificates (SKM).

Jeoseh Kuininseh, 31, one of his students, said the free course provided by the centre was beneficial for him.

“The skill that I have learned is very useful and it could pave the way for me to open my own business.

“If I have sufficient capital, I want to open a mobile phone repair centre to help my family,” said Jeoseh who had worked with an oil and gas company for five years.

On the secret behind his success, Teo said he spent much of his time mingling around with those who are older and more experienced.

“Apart from that, my own experience had taught me to look for ways to be free from the chains of poverty.

“Most importantly, you have to have a strong will to take action in order to achieve your dreams.”

His achievements did not go unnoticed as he had received numerous awards from the government and he formed the Harmonious Small Traders Association to protect the rights and welfare of small traders in Labuan.

“This association has 140 members where almost all of them are active bumiputera traders in the Island.

“We coordinate and inform the small traders on any business opportunity, especially during festive seasons or big events held in Labuan.

“Apart from that, the association also helped them to obtain micro-loans from the government.”

“If you are facing a difficult phase in life and you want to start a business, do not think much about getting a big capital as the actual capital would be your ideas and your willingness to learn, to constantly improve yourself,” he said.

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