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23-Year-Old Lived on Plain Rice & Leftovers, Now Owns A Kerepek Business Earning RM10k/month

Habiel Haiqal Jamil was propelled into the working world at the tender age of 18. Hailing from Klang, Selangor, Habiel is the middle child in a family of 5. He did not pursue higher education after secondary school, instead, he started working to support his own livelihood.

Only my mom was working at that time. With only a RM1000 salary, mom supports all three of us siblings. Because of that I decided not to continue my study. I wanted to go out to get money and experience. – Habiel[1]

B40 families are often left in a precarious situation when they do not have social protection to fall back on. Various government schemes like Bantuan Sara Hidup and BR1M seek to provide protection in the form of one-off cash handouts. However, many of these schemes are merely short-term relief for the long-standing economic situation that often burden low-income households.

Source: Habiel Haiqal Jamil

On top of day-to-day necessities, Habiel’s household had an additional expenditure. Habiel’s father is a frequenter of hospitals where his intestine and haemorrhoid issues made it necessary to undergo multiple surgeries[2]. This leaves Habiel’s mother the sole breadwinner to support the family’s livelihood.

The country’s public healthcare system is made affordable by a single-payer system, however, even the most minimal estimation of the medical bills can still be a hefty sum for B40 families[3]. In Habiel’s father’s case, a single surgery could easily eat up a month’s worth of income and leave the family in debt. Where savings are scarce, an unforeseen medical emergency can put them in deep debt.

Social insurance schemes in Malaysia fail to recognise the heterogeneity of non-standard and self-employed workers[4]. It assumes that self-employed individuals are able to provide for themselves without social insurance, which is not the case for many. This gross-generalization effectively leaves out low-income self-employed individuals like Habiel’s mother who are barely making ends meet. Sacrifices had to be made.

I made way for my elder sister and younger brother to pursue their studies. I wanted to work to lighten my mom’s burden. – Habiel[1]

Rough Start

Habiel, just like many young jobseekers are faced with an uphill battle when searching for a job. To sustain their lives when looking for work, most youth jobseekers rely solely on family support. However, some of these unemployed youth come from low-income households that have limited savings or no savings at all.

In 2019, close to 60% of unemployed graduates were found to be from households with income less than RM4,000 per month[4].

A limited academic qualification and professional experience did not leave Habiel with many choices. The workplace is much more demanding and less forgiving than the schoolyard. This is especially true for SPM-leavers with no vocational training. 

Source: mStar, Malay Mail

In a period of two years, Habiel had to settle for whatever job was available. That meant dabbling with odd jobs in odd locations.

I wore different hats doing different things — working in a factory, being a delivery man, and working in grocery shops in various areas such as Puchong, Bukit Jalil, Bangi and Setapak. – Habiel chronicling his various jobs[2]

Habiel recounted an experience when he was sent to work in Sungai Buloh.

There should be a pick-up van to fetch us back home after work ended at 2am. But when the van did not come, I had to make do and sleep on the pavement for the night. – Habiel[1]

This is only one of many encounters Habiel experienced in his quest to make a living. Habiel received a small salary for the work he did. He had to make every ringgit count and that meant choosing foods that are cheap and filling.

I sold burgers for about three to four months in Kuala Lumpur and used RM50 monthly to buy plain rice with leftovers from the burger stall such as the vegetables and extra meat patty. – Habiel while working as a burger seller[2]

Turning Point

Things took a different turn at the start of the first Movement Control Order. Habiel was exposed to the world of business when he joined a manufacturing company. He learned about different business strategies and picked up some tricks of the trade.

In 2021, I took the opportunity to produce my own facial wash products. I ran the business for 7 months but it didn’t go far. At the same time, I was also freelancing to offer others to sell my products while I sell theirs – Habiel, recounting his trial and tribulation[1]

Source: mStar

Finally, in October 2021, Habiel decided to make his second attempt at entrepreneurship. This time with kerepek ubi or sweet potato chips. Armed with all the network, knowledge, and database from his previous venture, he is more confident with his next product.

Kerepek ubi is a traditional delicacy that will never lose its authenticity and that was why I decided to sell them. I have always been interested in selling food products than other products. Thank god it was well-received. – Habiel[1]

In a short three months, Habiel managed to sell 500 cans of kerepek ubi. The business is growing steadily and Habiel is now focusing on further expansion. From having close to nothing to receiving a RM10,000 paycheck is like a dream come through for Habiel.

His hard work paid off as he managed to buy himself a red Perodua Axia and is now planning to bring the family on a pilgrimage trip to Mecca.

Now that I reflect my past journey, I have collected many experiences. All the bitterness I endured has taught me something meaningful in life. – Habiel[1]

Explore Our Sources

  1. Mohd Izzat Mohd Khalizan. (2022). Pemuda akhirnya hidup senang selepas ‘catu’ makanan untuk diri sendiri, peruntukkan hanya RM50 sebulan untuk makan! mStar. Link.
  2. Savitha, A.G. (2022). Klang man who survived on eating plain rice, leftover food now has own ‘kerepek ubi’ business. Malay Mail. Link.
  3. Muniapan, S. & Dr. Idlan Zakaria. (2019). Healthcare Costs in Malaysia. The Centre. Link.
  4. Khazanah Research Institute. (2021). Building Resilience: Towards Inclusive Social Protection in Malaysia. Link.

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