At some point in time, almost every child fantasises about what life would be like without parents. They imagine that life would be tons of fun, with unlimited playtime and none of those annoying rules imposed by the adult world. But of course in reality, that’s not the way it works. Caroline Wee discovered this at 11 years old when she became responsible for helping her father to raise her five siblings (the youngest was only three at that time). Caroline whose quiet disposition masks her incredibly strong spirit, recalled that she had to grow up very quickly. She had to stop studying at primary school and immediately had to begin caring for her siblings. This meant that she had to learn how to cook and wash; and she also had to make sure that the younger children did their studies. She accepted these new responsibilities without question or fuss. But three years later when her youngest sibling was just six years old, Caroline had to face yet another gruelling challenge – her father, who worked offshore as a cook and was the main breadwinner of the family, suffered from a stroke and was hospitalised for three months. Unfortunately he never regained his full health and died seven years later. Caroline, then herself a young wife and mother, then became the sole caretaker of her siblings. When asked was she ever afraid? Caroline unhesitatingly answered, “I had no fear at all.”
Living in a small wooden house with no support from anyone else, the sisters and brothers forged an unbreakable bond. With no time for depression and no room for self-pity, Caroline just got on with it. The siblings learnt to help each other and later on they helped Caroline to look after her own young children. It was their steadfast support which enabled her in 1984 to turn the small home based sewing business which had provided for the family since her father’s death, into an established tailoring company. Her brother and brotherin-law constructed a simple shop and she started with three employees. Today, this business Virgo Boutique & Ladies Fashion Tailor in Kiulap has 20 employees, a few of whom have been with Caroline for almost 20 years (one staff member even worked there until her retirement). Passionate about what she does, Caroline has been known to work from dusk to dawn to make sure that her customers are happy and satisfied with their garments. She selects only quality Italian silks and specialises in baju fashion and traditional wedding wear. Caroline is proud of what she’s accomplished and firmly believes that it is her life experiences that have made her the courageous, strong willed and independent lady that she is today.
Her formidable strength would once again be put to the test in 2001. While on vacation in the U.S., she suddenly suffered a brain haemorrhage. She was hospitalised there for two months. As soon as they could Caroline’s loyal siblings rushed to her bedside to be with her through her recovery. This family had come full circle. Her siblings were now able to help take care for Caroline, the sister who had given selflessly to them in the past.
“Passionate about what she does, Caroline has been known to work from dusk to dawn to make sure that her customers are happy and satisfied with their garments.”
Their support together with her strongwilled personality, enabled her to slowly fight her way back to normality by relearning to walk and talk. Today she has made a full recovery. Caroline goes to the gym three times a week, loves gardening, enjoys shopping; and looks forward to socialising and cooking for friends, some of whom she’s known for very many years. Caroline said that she was able to survive this ordeal and to keep going “for the sake of her children”. Both of her children have graduated from Australian universities and she has a very close relationship with her son Adrin who lives in Sydney and her daughter Olivia who lives with her here in Brunei.
Today, this “lady of few words” is contented and happy with the outcome of her life. She has no regrets and believes that the past should be left behind. She harbours no ill will to anyone. Family is everything to Caroline and it is clear that her siblings and children sincerely value and appreciate all of the sacrifices which she’s made over the years. No matter what the future holds, this family’s strong bonds will certainly enable them to survive and to continue to grow from strength to strength!