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When her late father took her to Rwanda in July 2011, she fell in love with the country and dreamt of going back. But Ms Lam Shumei never thought she would end up a chicken farmer in the East African country.

She hired Rwandans in her business
She hired Rwandans in her business

Ms Lam, 30, managing director at Poultry East Africa, wanted to fulfill her father’s dream of focusing on social impact projects.

Her dad, Mr Larry Lam, the founder and former chairman of port equipment engineering company Portek, wanted to give back to the communities using what he had built from his business.

He died in 2014.

Ms Lam says she choose to invest in the birds after she found out that chicken was sold at over 3,000 Rwandan francs (S$5.80) per kilogram.

“There just wasn’t enough local production.

“The average city dweller could only enjoy (chicken) once a year, typically during a celebration.”

So she returned home to register the company, identify potential sites and procure land.

Her reasoning what that the farm could not only provide jobs, it could help lower meat prices too.

She says finds Rwanda safe, organized and clean, but there were still challenges, such as finding skilled labour and being away from her family, as well as the 18-hour travel time between Rwanda and Singapore.

“Most days I experience challenges, it literally feels like I am swimming upstream, everything that could possibly go wrong does,” she says.

“But never to the extent where I wanted to give up.

Failure was never an option, and I have always been blessed to have the unwavering support of my family, friends and especially the Rwandan government.”

Full operations began in December 2014.

The farm can now contain 48,000 birds and the processing plant can process 400 birds an hour.

Support

Besides providing the Rwandan population with chicken, her company also supports the local work force in the Bugesera district – a 40-minute drive from Rwanda’s capital, Kigali.

The farm employs about 60 full-time staff and more than 80 per cent of them are from the local village.

She says: “We have empowered them with technical skills, provided them with a living to support their families, created a local economy in an area which was previously a bush land, and… we provide free weekly English lessons to all our ground staff.

“Doing something like this requires a very high level of motivation and discipline.

“It is very easy to settle down into the slow pace of life here, and just accept things the way they are normally done – but always remember that as much as it’s in human nature to resist change because it is painful, disruption is the critical driving force for progress.”

Her advice for anyone who is keen to work overseas: “We live incredibly privileged lives, nowhere in the world will match the comfort and ease of living at home.

“Go with an open mind… Always try to integrate into the local community to maximise your overseas experience, and do try to keep close ties with the local Singaporean community, especially if you are in the more ‘ulu’ (Malay for rural) areas.

“We have a great sense of camaraderie overseas, and that is simply due to our uniquely Singaporean identity.”

Source: The New Paper

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