WHEN there is passion and support from family, a disability is no longer an obstacle to success.
This was proven true by Barnabas Leong Wei En, a 23-year-old with special needs, who is now living his dream as a successful entrepreneur, thanks largely to the efforts of his mother, Chia Gek Tong.
The mother-and-son team run a thriving business selling organic products from two brick-and-mortar shops and an online store.
The enterprise, Barnabas Blessings, began with a basic need – to ensure young Barnabas was fed only organic food.
“Barnabas was born with an imperforate anus, a condition that makes it difficult for him to defecate,” Chia, 51, told theSun.
As a result, his health was badly affected when he was a child.
“The birth defect put his life at risk,” she said.
“For Barnabas’s sake, we began on a journey to healthy eating by putting only organic food on the table,” she added.
Starting from scratch, Chia made sugar by using sugar cane and milk from plants. Her son was also put on a diet of brown rice.
They even travelled to Kuala Lumpur weekly for items that were not available in Sekinchan, Selangor.
“We found that organic food did wonders for our son’s health, so my husband and I decided to open a store to sell organic products.”
When he was old enough, Barnabas began to help out at the store, taking on an increasingly bigger role in the business as he grew up.
As the business picked up, the mother-and-son team opened a similar store to reach a wider market.
When the Covid-19 pandemic swamped the country last year, Barnabas stepped in to open an online store to sell the same products.
He has been relentlessly promoting the products through videos that he uploads on YouTube.
Both the brick-and-mortar stores and the online enterprise have widened their product line with items of various brands.
Barnabas’s success would have been near impossible if not for the dedication of his mother.
“I believe it is important for my children to get an education no matter what,” Chia said.
Given that Barnabas also has Down syndrome, Chia found him a place in SMK Teluk Gadong in Klang that had a programme dedicated to special needs children like him.
After finishing at the school, Chia enrolled him in a learning centre in Petaling Jaya to enhance his vocabulary.
For Chia, all she wanted was for Barnabas to have the necessary knowledge and skills so that he is able to survive on his own.
“For that reason, we trained him from young to share some of the responsibilities at the store.
“Eventually, he learned to put price tags on items for sale, sort out the products and now, he is in charge of wrapping items for delivery.”
Chia said she named him after the Gospel of Barnabas.
“The name means ‘son of encouragement’, which I think is apt, given that his laughter and hugs bring happiness and encouragement to others around him.”
But for Chia, she is just happy that her son has grown into “a fine young man”.
She recalled the heartfelt words he said to her some time ago: “While my brother and sister are (studying) abroad, I am here to take care of you forever. You are not alone”.
In response to inquiries about the dishes she cooks for Barnabas, Chia and Barnabas will appear in a “live” cooking show on YouTube for a month from Mothers Day on Sunday.