Singapore’s only Cartier Women’s Initiative 2023 fellow couldn’t read till her Sunday School teachers stepped in
by Christine Leow // June 23, 2023, 6:50 pm
Mint Lim managed her dyslexia and now helps children with different learning abilities, and from different socio-economic backgrounds, to read. All photos courtesy of Mint Lim.
Mint Lim knows what it is like to feel left behind. In kindergarten, she used to marvel at her classmates’ ability to read.
“I would compare myself with my friends and I would keep thinking, ‘These people are really smart. How is it that I don’t seem to get it?’ I felt different and slow,” said the 36-year-old.
“I would keep thinking, ‘These people are really smart. How is it that I don’t seem to get it?’ I felt different and slow.”
What she did seem to get were the Bible stories her Sunday school teachers told her.
“There were only a few teachers but they made Sunday school really fun. It was very personal and the stories were great. They left a deep impression on me.”
Mint’s maternal grandparents were Christians as is her mother. Every week, they would go to church faithfully where they would meet the rest of the extended family. Her father is not a Christian but was happy to chauffeur them.
“It was the day I looked forward to every single week.”
When Mint was well into kindergarten but still could not read, her Sunday school teachers, some of whom were early childhood educators, noticed she was behind her peers in literacy.
They gave her mother a phonics book and taught her mother how to help Mint.
“It was a painful process for my mum. She would come back late at night from work and sit down with me at a big round table and try to get me to recognise the letters in the book.
Like her path to literacy, her road to success had a painful start.
“I remember she asked me to write the letters ‘b’ and ‘d’ again and again, and she kept saying to me that it was the wrong side. I was thinking, ‘How is it wrong? It looks right to me.’”
Her mother’s patience eventually paid off. As Mint approached primary school, she “figured it out” and could finally read.
“After being able to read, it was like a big door blew open to me. I started devouring big books after that.”
The confidence she gained from being literate and the opportunities that came with being able to read was something Mint wants every child to experience.
In 2018, she opened enrichment centre School of Concepts (SoC) to give every child “equal access to quality education through English learning programmes”. The social enterprise is an inclusive one, reserving places for disadvantaged children and providing subsidies. Programmes also cater to different learning styles.
As Mint opened doors for children, her initiative also opened the door for her to gain international recognition.
In April this year, she became Singapore’s first fellow of the Cartier Women’s Initiative (CWI). The global programme recognises and nurtures women whose enterprises aim to impact society.
But, like her path to literacy, her road to success had a painful start.
“A very big crisis”
Once Mint mastered English, she discovered she was an above-average student. In fact, she excelled academically. Her parents, however, were relaxed about her studies, never pressuring her.
“Once I came home with 36 upon 100 for my Higher Chinese. My dad said, ‘Wah, that’s very good.’
“My father would always say to me, ‘It’s okay if people try once, and you try five times. You still get to the same end point.’”
“Being able to ponder was really a luxury. I just decided to do whatever I needed to do to help.”
She was on track to becoming an engineer when she dropped out of university at 19. She declined to tell Salt&Light the details, only saying that it was because of a “very big crisis” that involved her father’s job.
“My dad is a very trusting, very upright, honest man. He was in a way sabotaged.”
Their family finances were badly affected, but the damage went much deeper.
“I saw how my mother crumbled under pressure, how my father distanced himself emotionally at many points. We were at our lowest.”
Her mother would pray for her father and with him as well. Mint would come home to find her father with his hands clasped in prayer, a marked change from the man who used to chastise her when she had tried to share the Gospel with him.
To support the family, Mint, the oldest of four children, started a business in the automotive industry, the same industry in which her father had worked.
“I didn’t even think about it. I just decided to do whatever I needed to do to help. Being able to ponder was really a luxury.
“But I was young, had no exposure and didn’t know how to do business. I only prayed, ‘God show me what to do now, give me courage, let me meet the right people.’”
God in crises
God did answer her prayers. Once while in the Middle East on a business trip, Mint narrowly escaped being kidnapped.
“I was trading in a very male-dominated state. Some things went well, some things didn’t. Then someone said, ‘Let’s cross the border. There is business there.’”
“I was young, had no exposure. I only prayed, “God, show me what to do. Give me courage, let me meet the right people.”
Without thinking much about the invitation, Mint got into the man’s car. They travelled as far as to the customs on the other side when she felt prompted to reach under her seat.
“I pulled out a bag of clothing that smelt really bad. It was women’s clothing. I thought, ‘Oh my goodness! Something must have happened here or there wouldn’t be these things.’”
Mint knew “something very bad was going to happen”. Wracking her brains for a way out of the situation, she decided that the best way to make a kidnapping unsuccessful was to “make myself worthless”.
“In that moment of frenzy, I prayed. Then I had the idea to induce an asthma attack.”
She was so good at it that she indeed had an asthma attack. The man panicked and took her back across the border.
That was not the first time God rescued her from harm.
“In that moment of frenzy, I prayed. Then I had the idea to induce an asthma attack.”
When Mint was a teenager, she went with her extended family to China for a holiday. While the adults went shopping, Mint, her younger siblings and cousins stayed behind at a family friend’s home.
As the day wore on, the children became hungry. Not knowing when the adults would return, Mint decide to cook for them.
“I managed to turn on the gas but I couldn’t light the stove.”
As the kitchen filled with gas, Mint shepherded the children into the room farthest away. Then she shut herself in the kitchen, stuffed a wet cloth under the door and tried to turn off the knob on the stove.
“I tried turning it again and again. It was winter and the air was drier. Dry air has more static and any static could have sparked an explosion.
“I decided then that when all else fails, just pray. After I prayed, I put my hand on the same knob and it turned off.
“It was a miracle.”
Rich, but empty inside
For three years after the family crisis, Mint did what she could to make money. Apart from her automotive business, she started a tuition centre as well as a florist business.
Though she still prayed when she needed help, she had stopped going to church by then.
“I didn’t feel bitterness towards God but I was very lost. I felt a lot of bitterness towards my parents and my family at the time.
“I felt that life wasn’t about all these things and I wanted a higher purpose.”
“I expected them to feel grateful for my sacrifices. When I felt they didn’t appreciate me, I was thrown into a negative state of bitterness.
“Everyone else had the varsity life, gap year. I didn’t even have time to stop and feel sorry for myself.”
Hurt, Mint started to withdraw from her family and searched for acceptance in “lousy relationships”.
The only thing that stopped her from going further in any of her relationships was her belief that she should not be “unequally yoked”. She knew she wanted to marry a Christian.
“God left that baseline for me and I am very thankful for it. My partners were not of the same faith and I struggled a lot with that fact.”
By the time Mint was in her 20s, she had become quite successful in her businesses.
“I bought a lot of things, seeking a lot of material happiness. But that didn’t make me feel happy. I felt that life wasn’t about all these things and I wanted a higher purpose.”
All for the children
Mint returned to church in an effort to “step out of it”. For a year, she prayed for God to remove the bitterness in her heart.
“From the point of birth, these children already had less. They weren’t given equal opportunity.”
She also sought to make meaning of her work. She realised she really enjoyed teaching children but what she loved most was helping them.
“When I started tutoring, I saw so many children with dyslexia who felt so small. They felt like they should be put in a box somewhere else because they were different.
“I realised that children identify feelings of being different or stupid from a very young age and it messes up their level of confidence, their ability to communicate and their ability to interact with the world around them.
“I felt this was not what education should stand for. Education should be enriching, not something that would destroy a person’s soul.”
So Mint opened an enrichment centre with a difference. School of Concepts uses phonics and play to teach children to read. Their centre is located in a lower income estate that accepts students even if they cannot afford the fees.
“They wanted to study but they didn’t have the chance. From the point of birth, they already had less. They weren’t given equal opportunity.
“Education should be enriching, not something that would destroy a person’s soul.”
“Because of the disparity between those who can afford and those who cannot, a lot of children enter Primary 1 already feeling less about themselves because those who are privileged can already read, write, spell, even write essays. Those who didn’t have the resources could barely write their names.”
One of the earliest children Mint helped was a seven-year-old whose mother was a prostitute. Her father was a private hire driver Mint had met.
“She was watching adult shows online. She was rude and had a lot of behavioural issues. I decided to teach her one-to-one.
“Because her mother was never around, she would feel sad. So I told her I could be like her foster mum.”
Today, the child has completed her PSLE and helps her father at his F&B stall after school.
“If not for education, her life could have been very different.”
Blessings from caring for the least of these
As a social enterprise, SoC relies on investments. Every investor has been divinely appointed.
“God led me to raiSE, Singapore Centre for Social Enterprises, which decided that it was a good thing to invest a kickstarter sum with us.
“Then 18 months later, when we wanted to open another outlet because we had grown organically, I prayed and this investor walked through my door and decided to put in some money to open an outlet with us.”
When Covid hit and everything went online, SoC was slow to pivot. Business suffered badly but Mint was determined to keep all her staff.
“I wanted to lift everyone up. But I was sinking deeper and I found myself spiralling back to that bitter person.
“I prayed and God entered my life again.”
Someone well-versed in education technology applied to work with SoC because his own company had folded during Covid. He was able to help SoC move into offering online resources – something Mint did not have the expertise to do.
The employee also connected her to an old mutual friend who helped them develop educational toys. It was a new revenue stream.
“God is my CEO.”
Then a local bank looking to develop financial literacy programmes approached Mint to develop online resources, classes and assembly talks. It gave SoC another lifeline during the Covid years.
The initiative now reaches up to 6,000 children between the ages of three and 12 every month.
When Mint needed another person to help her manage the business, she prayed and, despite the labour crunch, was able to hire someone.
“As we interacted, I found out that she is a sister-in-Christ. We developed a very strong friendship. She reminds me to go back to the Word all the time.”
Through the way they conduct themselves and run SoC, colleagues who were not of the faith became interested in Christianity. A few have since become Christians.
“God has always been present in the business,” said Mint.
“As I always say: God is my CEO.”
We are an independent, non-profit organisation that relies on the generosity of our readers, such as yourself, to continue serving the kingdom. Every dollar donated goes directly back into our editorial coverage.
Would you consider partnering with us in our kingdom work by supporting us financially, either as a one-off donation, or a recurring pledge?Support Salt&Light