The reason it started is something we’ll come back to later, but what’s interesting to note is that the stall is run by a 27-year-old lawyer who quit her high-flying position as a corporate litigator to help refugees in Thailand.
And if it weren’t for love and marriage, Madeline Chan would still be there, assisting the displaced to process the paperwork needed to stay in a foreign land.
Madeline graduated from law school in 2015 and became a litigator, fighting cases in court on behalf of firms. In 2019, something happened to her at work which changed her perspective of what she wanted in her career.
Not wanting to delve into the details, Madeline would only share that she was placed in “quite a vulnerable position”.
“At that point when it happened, a lot of people stepped out for me to protect me or to fight for me. So after that experience, I realised that I would like to do that for other people in vulnerable positions as well.
“And as a lawyer representing corporations, I wasn’t really stepping up for anyone who really needed the support as big companies have a lot of resources on their own. So that’s why I shifted my focus to try to be a lawyer for the people who need that service.”
Against the backdrop of the Rohingya crisis which had recently unfolded at the time, Madeline decided that refugees were one such group of people whom she could help. Since there were no such organisations in Singapore, Madeline turned her sights overseas.
The locality had to be near home, in consideration of her long-term relationship with her then-boyfriend and now-fiancé.
“I applied for jobs in Malaysia and Thailand, and I just so happened to get a job in Thailand,” she said. With that, she quit her job at the firm and flew to Bangkok.
There, she worked for a non-profit organisation, helping refugees with their asylum applications.
“I earned as much as a Haidilao kitchen staff,” she laughed, revealing that her pay was about $2,000. The amount wasn’t paltry by Thai standards. It offered her a reasonably comfortable lifestyle in Bangkok, “if you don’t mind not saving too much money”.
She was quite happy working in Thailand and would have stayed for more than a year, had her boyfriend not proposed.
Sounding almost reluctant, she shared: “He wanted us to settle down and get married, so I had to come back I guess, for that reason.” Madeline ruled out the possibility of moving to Bangkok due to the lack of opportunities in Thailand for her fiancé, who is in private banking.
Lest one may think she’s an unwilling bride-to-be, Madeline confessed that she was the “classic irritating girlfriend” that had pressured her boyfriend to settle down. After a few years, she simply decided that “I’d just go to Thailand to do me, and when you’re ready then I’ll come back”.
Despite knowing she had to head back to Singapore, Madeline wanted to find a way to continue the work that she had started. And knowing that there’s no existing avenue in Singapore to continue her work, she thought of other ways to still fulfil that calling.