Singapore

Blind in one eye, teacher finds drive to focus on love for embroidery, home business

Blind in one eye, teacher finds drive to focus on love for embroidery, home business
Mr Peter Yuen had a nose cancer relapse in 2014 that attacked his nerve centre some 14 years after his first bout of cancer. Photo: Najeer Yusof/TODAY
Published: 3:51 PM, October 7, 2017
Updated: 7:24 AM, October 9, 2017

SINGAPORE — Like navy technician and table tennis para-athlete Jason Chee, Mr Peter Yuen lost sight in one eye due to cancer.

Then, seeing how Mr Chee picked himself up to win a gold medal at the ASEAN Para Games in September within five months of him removing his right eyeball, Mr Yuen found the motivation to make a comeback as Mr Chee did — by becoming an entrepreneur.

The 43-year-old former teacher of Shuqun Secondary School, who lost his job last May, said: "Jason was able to get up and be independent very soon. So I thought, if he could do it, so could I."

Mr Yuen, who taught design and technology, had a nose cancer relapse in 2014 that attacked his nerve centre some 14 years after his first bout of cancer. He could not effectively instruct his students on how to use tools and machinery anymore, because he had lost much of his hearing and sense of smell, on top of going blind in his right eye.

After his contract with the school ended last year, he decided not to stay on due to safety concerns. He tried and failed to secure another job in tutoring or lecturing.

Then, last August, he decided to start an online business selling customised corporate gifts such as embroidered towels, personalised baby bibs, and pillows. Over the Christmas period, business picked up, with 200 orders through its site, Embroidery Wonderland.

Still, it was not something Mr Yuen was pursuing full-time.

He and his wife, who is a homemaker, and their five-year-old daughter relied on his savings during the period when he was jobless. With the time he had, Mr Yuen turned to his interest in embroidery. Some four years ago, he had bought a S$14,000 embroidery machine after becoming awestruck with what a man did during a demonstration at a shopping centre. "I saw how amazing the threads of different colours came together to form a cartoon character," he recalled. "Slowly, I did my research. The more I found out, the more I felt I could do more and better than (what he did)."

Now, Mr Yuen has invested in another machine that cost S$12,000. He is looking to push his online business venture to the next level and take it more seriously, diversifying to go into fabric printing as well.

Last month, he received a S$3,000 grant disbursed by the TODAY Enable Fund, which serves to support the employment needs of persons with disabilities.

"I used to always tell my students to think out of the box to solve problems... Now I think I am giving myself instructions on how to solve my own problem... that no problem is too large to solve."

He and his wife have been tackling more challenging personal projects, such as embroidering a photo of themselves on a canvas. On the business front, they are receiving requests for a wide variety of customised fabric products.

Seeing how difficult it is for handicapped people to secure jobs, Mr Yuen told TODAY that should his business take off, he would like to hire people from that community because he believes that "a lot of them are good in designing".

He added: "I had always wanted to start my own business, but I dared not venture out when I had a stable job. I am doing all of that now."

* Support the TODAY Enable Fund for the special needs community. Find out more via www.todayonline.com/enable.

* If you know of more stories of people with disabilities, email us at today@mediacorp.com.sg