KUALA LUMPUR: Dawn was hours away as she waded, shivering, into the waters of Sungai Batang Padang in Perak. Ramnah Jabarudin's long day had just begun.
She would stand in the rushing waters for hours, bent over, panning for gold.
On good days, she would find small specks of the precious metal. But most days, all she got was dirt and pebbles.
Indom Musa, however, used to make a living selling snacks and fruits by the side of the highway.
It was dangerous, as the cars were zooming past at more than 100kph, but Indom needed the money.
That was 14 years ago. Now, both women's lives have improved, thanks to the North-South Expressway (NSE).
Ten years ago, Ramnah and Indom started their own businesses, selling local fruits at the rest and service areas (RSAs) along the expressway.
They are among the 596 entrepreneurs operating stalls at the RSAs dotting the sides of the NSE.
"Before, it was difficult to cari makan (make a living). Now, I don't worry because there is a steady income. I used to transport the fruits on a bicycle but now I use a car which I bought with my own money," said Indom.
A common thread shared by all the women RSA stall operators is their accidental foray into the business world.
Most got involved because they wanted to help ease their husbands' burden. Many were young mothers who had to rely on relatives to look after their children.
PLUS Expressways Bhd, which operates the North-South Expressway, prides itself in helping local communities through the RSAs.
"PLUS is committed to contributing to sustaining small and medium food, agriculture and service industries. We promote local products and most importantly, there are job opportunities for locals," said PLUS Expressways general manager for operations Mohammad Fuad Khusairi during a recent media tour of the RSAs.
PLUS keeps the rent of the stalls low, ranging from RM84 to RM1,200 depending on the size and location, as its main objective is to support the socio-economic development of locals while providing safe and comfortable stops for highway users.
"We even have the Orang Asli selling forest honey and traditional herbs at the Sungai Perak stop."
With an average of 3,500 patrons a day and up to 7,000 during the weekends, opportunities abound. Stall owners earn about RM700 a day. Indom said her income spikes to around RM1,000 a day during holidays.
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