From rag to riches

She wanted to get out of an arranged marriage.

Then 19, she also wanted to help her family financially as she was the second eldest.

So in 1984, Miss Jeanilyn Bermudez left her hometown in the province of Nueva Vizcaya, the Philippines, to work as a domestic helper in Singapore.

For more than two decades, she had little savings from her monthly wage of $320, then the "market rate", she said.

It was only in 2006, when she met her current employers, a French family, who paid her $800 monthly, that she started saving $100 a month.

Miss Bermudez also started studying at Aidha in 2009, with her employers' encouragement.

"They knew I was interested in running businesses and encouraged me to take up courses at Aidha," she said.

Her employers paid her course fees.

She learnt business management strategies and skills.

"I graduated with the best business plan in my batch," she said, beaming.

When she graduated in 2010, she used her savings of $4,800 over four years to start a recycling business, the Lyneth Grace Metal and Boxes Junk Shop, in her hometown.

"We used to just throw out rubbish without much thought, but never realised that scrap materials were worth some money," Miss Bermudez said.

When the Filipina returned to her hometown for a visit, she seized the opportunity to do all the research and paperwork.

After finding out the prices of each type of scrap material - paper, metal, bottles - and who to sell them to, she started the ball rolling with seven teenage boys under her wing.

They go to neighbouring towns on foot to collect junk every day and earn a cut.

Miss Bermudez has roped in her brother to oversee the operations in the Philippines, while she keeps tab on her business on Sundays - her day off - through the phone or e-mail.


The rest of her free time, including a half-day off on Thursdays, is spent in church, with her friends, or volunteering.

They have up to 20 employees - eight adults, while the rest are teens - who collect junk on bicycles and bring in an annual profit of $4,000.

She hopes to use the profit to build a warehouse to store the collected junk.

"Right now, the junk is piling up in front of our house. It's not healthy or hygienic because of the rust and smell from the bottles," she explained.

While retiring in her hometown is on the cards, Miss Bermudez intends to continue working here as long as she is fit.

She has participated in the Standard Chartered marathon for the past three years.

Miss Bermudez, who volunteers with a migrant workers group, said: "I'm enjoying my life here. Every time I go back to the Philippines, my heart is here.

"The environment is different because of the activities I am involved in."