A colourful and warm atmosphere greets you when you sit down for a chat with Choo Li-Hsian at her home, to learn about her daily routine.
A seemingly ordinary woman with the usual array of family tasks, this mother of twins greets you with a smile and talks to you excitedly about her role as a “homemaker” and freelancer in the public relations field.
But, don't be deceived with the simplicity of the homemaker definition.
We are celebrating Choo's achievements on International Women's Day because her story is an inspiring one to show that ordinary women, and not necessarily celebrities or high profile individuals, have the ability to make a positive impact on the environment they live and work in.
“I think women can make a difference, no matter how little they do, in the community they live in,” she shares with RojakDaily.
Image: Susan Tam
This 44-year-old is not only a mother and wife, but also leads art projects and tours, as well as run book projects that have strong messages supporting social causes.
She doesn't think she leads a busy life, but after we asked her to list down her projects, voluntary work alongside with her duties in her family, she laughs and agreed that the list was rather long.
So, what drives Choo to do what she does daily?
“I would say I am motivated by simple and small gestures rather than grand things.
“Of course, overall, I am motivated by wanting to make things better and to make an impact even with the many little things I do,” she says.
MOTHERHOOD WAS TOUGH IN THE BEGINNING
Choo quit her full-time work in 2013 when she had twins.
After learning that her daughter, Isha Iyer, was diagnosed with Down Syndrome, she shares that at the time it was a struggle for the first few months accepting and understanding this new situation for the family.
“It was very shocking for me when we first found out, but I was very lucky because I got connected with the Kiwanis Down Syndrome Foundation and its support network, and the mothers in the parent support group, they helped me,” she explains.
Reading hard and factual medical articles when they first found out about Isha was not encouraging as it doesn't show the human potential of a person with Down Syndrome, she explains, making her depressed.
But, Choo and her sister found stories about families overcoming the odds that motivated the family to get Isha into early intervention programmes. The three (and a half) year old girl now attends a mainstream playschool with her brother, Akash.
Image: Susan Tam
Choo's positive attitude helps propel the family to realise their children's maximum potential.
“It's important to make the most of time and energy to do little things that have positive impact, on you and others,” she says.
She adds that they want to provide the same support for other families, in a way that she describes as paying it forward after receiving much help and advice from other friends and her extended families.
DOING IT FOR THE CHILDREN
The finance graduate does not stop there at supporting the community, she also works with her partner Michelle Lim-Chua to run art tours for toddlers and older children at the ILHAM Gallery in Kuala Lumpur.
These tours are part of a community programme, subsidised by the gallery, while Choo and Lim-Chua volunteer their time.
“We have since spun off into very specialised children's picture book reading sessions based on art and the gallery's various exhibition themes.
“So, you could say some of my work now focuses on curating creative experiences for children that cultivate art appreciation and creative thinking in young children,” says Choo, who comes from Johor Bahru.
She adds that what keeps her going is the fact that she is encouraged by positive feedback around her on the effects of her work.
“These come in the form of words of support by my family, text messages from my friends, emails from parents who take the time to write back after they attended an art tour with their children about how they like it and what they have learned, or clients who like my work,” she says.
Her love for art and education extends to the publishing field.
Choo also embarks on projects to produce children's books that carry positive social messages.
Books like 'What's Wrong with Oscar?
' was created for the Pharmaceutical Society of Singapore, on educating children about medicine, while the 'What's Up With the Earth
' titles covered issues of climate change supported by a Chinese pharmaceutical firm.
On top of all this, Choo is also a writer for Thots and tots
, an online magazine on parenting and children.
Her daily routine comprises of a long checklist starting with gym runs, taking her twins to school, catching up on book projects, research, leading art projects and planning tours, aside from the usual family responsibilities and “me” time.
How does she do all these amazing things?
“I am not sure if all these things count as amazing. For me, my pet peeve is unrealised potential, so I try to maximise my time to do more and share more.
“I have a deep curiosity about the world and am constantly absorbing things like a sponge and I love sharing what I have learned with others, she explains.
Image: Susan Tam
Choo wishes for children in particular to realise that the world around them is a very interesting place, especially now when many children are more absorbed with gadgets and screens.
“There is nothing wrong with technology but technology should be a tool to help you see how interesting the world around you really is and to learn more about that it, rather than technology being your whole world,” she adds.
'MAKE YOURSELF A PRIORITY'
She acknowledges the support from her husband, Srihari Iyer, 45, who she says understands her need to balance the family needs and her own. Her extended family are also supportive of her work.
Choo believes that largely she just tries to stay happy and healthy, so that she is able to support the people around her better.
“I have to remind myself that motherhood is not 'martyr'-hood.
“Make it a habit to make yourself a priority, change your mindset to make it happen. Know yourself and what works for you. For some of us, it may be carving time out for some exercise. Often, we are so exhausted that we find it difficult to motivate ourselves to exercise regularly."
All said, the best advice was from a new friend, who told her to, “Take care of yourself because you are the anchor that everyone will be holding on to.”
Choo keeps that in mind daily, especially on days when she feels the strain from the very physical and emotional work that comes with caring for a family, amidst trying to do everything else.
Her story of juggling multiple roles, as mother, author and managing meaningful art projects is an, and continues to be,inspiration to others.