The festive season blesses us with the opportunity to pause and look around. It gives us time to step into our periphery and acknowledge some of the extraordinary things and people around us. As this year’s Chinese New Year (CNY) rolled around in January, RHB Bank Berhad highlighted exactly this, through the inspiring story of one young girl.
Meet Leah Choy, also known as Chef Leah, who made headlines by baking since she was four to raise money for her sister, Adele, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
A recipient of the Tuanku Bainun Young Changemakers Award in 2015, Leah’s goal was to ease her family’s financial burden incurred by expensive treatment for Adele.
RHB’s heart-warming story of Leah was voted no.1 in Marketing Magazine’s annual viewer poll of CNY spots.
Driven by unwavering persistence and unconditional love for her sister, Leah, now 11, is a successful entrepreneur and has released her first book, ‘Chef Leah with a Big Heart’.
“Leah’s intentions and determination at such a tender age to contribute & fight to the wellbeing of her sister is testament to the strength of the human spirit especially when it comes to the ones we love,” said Abdul Sani Abdul Murad, Group Chief Marketing Officer for RHB Banking Group. “RHB’s recognizes and celebrates this as it encapsulates our own challenger spirit & brand belief of not giving up on what has a special place in our hearts.”
Equipped with the most genuine of intentions, an unwavering persistence, powered by unconditional love for her sister, Leah is now a successful entrepreneur who’s released her first book, ‘Chef Leah with a Big Heart’.
Published by Malaysia’s MPH Group Publishing in 2018, ‘Chef Leah with a Big Heart’ is filled with Leah’s stories, recipes and tips on baking simple cupcakes to complex three-tiered cakes, all suitable for children. Her book was also picked up by the National Library of Malaysia.
During the CNY Luncheon 2020 held on February 20 to award the top 20 CNY TVCs, we were lucky to have Leah herself there to accept RHB’s award. To get to know her story better, we asked her a few questions. Below are Leah’s raw and honest answers:
It’s safe to say that on average, 4 years old is young to start baking. Was there a specific reason you were interested in baking at a young age?
That was the time I found out that Adele was brain injured and I thought to myself, “age doesn’t matter just do what you want to do.” I watched a TV series called Cake boss – I’d wake up every Wednesday and wait for it to come on. Besides that, my aunty who is also a baker gave me the idea of baking as a means of fundraising. But mostly I chose baking because it’s fun and most of the time Malaysians have a sweet tooth.
What inspires you to design your cupcakes the way you have been so far?
Usually I’ll design the cake based on what the customer wants. But all my designs so far such as the hydrangea, rosette and the black beauty are designs I learned from Youtube and my teachers. The designs in my cookbook are all based on mine and Adeles’s imaginations. For example, the ‘Slithering up design’ was inspired by my love for snakes! The ‘My Malaysia’ cake design on the other hand, was inspired by my religion which is called the Bahai Faith. There are even two specific designs that Adele inspired me to do. I explain more about that in my book which you can find at MPH bookstores or you can even get a signed copy from me.
What has surprised you the most about saving money to fundraise for Adele?
I think what I have learnt from this is that there is really no limit to one’s ability to do things we set our heart and mind to. At first, the fact that I could even sell even a dozen of my baked goods was amazing. I initially thought people would think that because I’m a kid, my baked goods wouldn’t be as good. Luckily we had friends who wanted to support me, and that support kick-started my business.
Can you tell us more about the ways your story has increased awareness surrounding cerebral palsy?
I think that I’ve made people realise that brain injured kids aren’t useless. They are still human beings, not aliens and they deserve the same amount of love if not more!
At what point did you realise you needed to convert your piggy bank into a bank account?
I asked my mum to make a bank account for me when we first started because I wanted to be responsible and not use my money freely. Also because that way, it’s easier for people to pay for cupcakes and cakes. Since there is technology, why not use it right?
How did you feel when you found out you were the recipient of the Tuanku Bainun Young Changemakers Award?
I was amazed that I even made it to the top ten let alone the top three! But it really helped me with my sales as well as being able to share my journey and story with other children, youth and adults. I hope I’ve managed to inspire more people to follow their dreams and to never give up. Until today, I am grateful for that opportunity and recognition.
For someone who has successfully started her own baking business and written a cookbook for children, what is your advice to other kids your age in achieving their dreams?
Chase your dreams, believe in yourself, believe in God. If you have a good motive in what you want to do, keep going. When you feel like giving up, think of the reason you are doing what you are doing. Plus, if you never try you never know right? And always remember “where there is love, nothing is too much trouble and there is always time”.
Have you considered training or working with other children of your age to raise awareness about cerebral palsy?
Actually, I do share my story and Adele’s condition with not just children my age but also youth and adults. I have travelled to Indonesia, Brunei and around Malaysia speaking to children and adults. You can always write to me if you want me to share my journey and conduct baking workshops for your company. My secretary, my mummy, will help me organize my schedules.
As a 11 year old, what is your understanding on the importance of having enough savings for the future (short & long term) ?
My parents always taught me to spend smartly and I will spend my earnings on ingredients and materials for baking. I will also help those who need help. Not much but I do try to help. I am now saving up for my farmhouse café and of course most of my money is for Adele. Since I am able to work and earn a living, I want to give most of my money to my sister and also help my parents.