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Mob of rebels wanted to kill Singaporean

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She opened soap factories in Nepal & India to help ex-prostitutes.

Wearing helmets and armed with weapons, a mob of about 80 people jumped over the soap factory gate and rushed in, threatening to kill her and her husband.

Singaporean social entrepreneur Josephine Tan, who was then at her place of business in Nepal in 2011, soon got one more shock.

One of the mob yelled a specific threat at Madam Tan and her husband, Mr Raj, saying: "I want to put them in hot water and kill them."

Madam Tan, 47, and Mr Raj, who is in his 30s, hid in the factory and later fled.

She said: "We were very shocked but thankful there were a lot of us at the factory."

There were no casualties that day.

Madam Tan moved to Nepal in 2011 to set up Touch Nature Nepal, a social enterprise that employed former sex workers to produce all-natural handmade soap.

"I felt very sorry for the women and I really wanted to help them improve their lives," she said.

But the mob incident shook her.

She said the mob consisted mostly of communist Maoist rebels, who were then in a fight against the monarchy and were trying to extort money from various businesses in the area.

What made it even worse for her was that several single mothers she had helped were part of the mob.

"I was a bit heartbroken. How could they just betray us after all I've done to help them with their needs?" she said.

Later that year, Madam Tan compensated her workers and closed down the factory.


She and her husband relocated to Kolkata in India, where she set up Touch Nature Kolkata after seeing the plight of the women in the red-light district.

"I really want to do something for them... help them to regain their confidence and dignity so they can lead a normal life," she said.

Madam Tan oversees everything, including the administrative work, accounting and staff training, while her husband oversees the local construction of their new factory.

They have 14 women working for them.

Madam Tan said that one of her employees, a former prostitute, met the man who would become her husband while she was working in the red-light district.

Madam Tan, who has no children, said she counselled the couple and gave them a new lease of life.

Now, they have stable jobs and a healthy baby.

Although helping others brings her happiness, Madam Tan said that it is tough sometimes living overseas.

She said she gets to see her family in Singapore only once or twice a year.

Her mother's deteriorating health adds to the list of things she has to worry about.

Her sister, Ms Jacqueline Tan, said: "I was worried about her not having enough and her safety whenever there was earthquake news near where she stayed.

"In the earlier years, I also cried when I sent her off, but she probably did not know."

Madam Tan is aware that her family worries about her, but she remains committed because her passion is in helping others.

She intends to stay in Kolkata. She said:"We have embraced Kolkata as our home"

Her sister feels a difference in Madam Tan now.

Ms Jacqueline Tan said: "When she was young, she was not a happy person. Now, you can hear her laughter all the time, even when she is having a rough time at work. There is this glorious shine in her and through her."