Aisthu: A shining example of family love, Achieving new heights while being confined to a wheel chair, Aiming for international recognition

She has achieved several awards in her field throughout her life. It wouldn’t be a lie to say that there won't be a handicraft exhibition or an embroidery and sewing expo where her name didn’t come into the spotlight. She is a shining example for Maldivian womenfolk. She is even a beautiful example to the whole world.

Ms. Aishath Shafeeg (Aisthu), M. Shafeegge has been proving to the world since she was young that in order to achieve the goals set in life one needs to have courage and work with unshakeable determination. She is a star that has gained recognition throughout the nation for doing creative intricate work. She is well known, especially for sewing and embroidery work.

She is the ninth child among twelve siblings. She started walking without assistance by the age of 10 months. But at the age of one, she became a victim of polio. After contracting a high fever her ability to walk was completely impaired. At that time she was too young to understand the magnitude of the problem and how it would affect her. She spent her childhood running around with children of her household who were her age. Her childhood was too happy and too rich that she didn’t feel any different from them. But as she grew older she began to feel that she couldn’t do many things that children her age did. She began to understand her condition better. This realization made her withdraw into her own inner world. She became silent and began to feel despair at the thought of being confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life.

What happened to her was a tragedy for her parents and her family as well. Since that day she remained the most special and cared-for member in her whole family. Her elder brother, “Dhonbeybe” especially remains the person who understands her the best. She reflects fondly that his attempts at helping her through the little things to the very big things, and giving her extra attention, so that she may reach levels that others are at. She also considers it her luck that her two younger siblings are medical doctors who help her maintain optimum health with their care and consultancy.

Because of her condition, she wasn’t able to go through schooling as able-bodied people do. But with the help of her family, she attained education up to the seventh standard. She also proudly announced that she had completed an English proficiency course in Australia.

While sharing about her childhood experiences she shared about being bullied when she went out to watch the parade. She wanted to enjoy what others enjoyed but ended up being the victim of cruel words thrown at her by people unsympathetic to her condition. She smiled wistfully as she shared with us the incident but the pain she felt even that day couldn’t be concealed. At that time people were ignorant of disability and unaware of the etiquette to observe when treating people with disabilities.

“I wanted to go and watch my siblings play the flute in the parade. There would be people in my house who would carry me there. I went happily but I came back home very sad. I would cry for long hours but then I would forget the incident and go again the next year. One day after I entered my teen years my father asked me to go with him. He told me that I would not get bullied as long as he is with me. He was right.”

People teased her for being carried around by adults. They would shout shameful things like “hey how about you carry me too” making her feel humiliated. When she went out with her father people dared not tease her. But her father was usually out of Male’ so Aisthu was only able to go and watch the parade if it coincided with the time he was around.

Since she was young she saw her mother engaged in tailoring work. She thinks this could be the reason that she took up an interest in sewing.

“I used to sit there and watch her sew. When I was around nine years I started doing hand embroidery. At that time my mom tried to keep me away from this work because I was young. But I was so interested in the work. It was very difficult for me to work the pedal of the sewing machine with my feet but I was so interested in doing that that I began to operate the machine using my hand. I don’t ever remember pricking my hand with the needle”, she shared with us how she got into the field of sewing.

The whole family was supportive of her.

Her entire family was determined to help her attain the highest levels in her field. Her parents were extremely attentive to her needs since she was young. She came from a large family and she gratefully noted that each and every one of the members paid special attention to doing for her the things that she couldn’t do for herself. Her home was a temporary resting place for visitors from different islands and these visitors also extended their love and care to her since she started remembering. She also noted that she was surrounded by neighbors who expressed their kindness to her in many ways. She was treated with specialness by everyone around her. She considers herself extremely lucky for being provided with a loving a caring atmosphere where she thrived and blossomed despite her debilitating condition.

The large living room of her home has been converted into her sewing room. It is apparent by the look of the furniture and the sewing table that everything has been specially designed to accommodate Aisthu, to serve her special needs. There were threads of every possible color arranged neatly. When we asked her if we could observe her sewing she immediately got into her element behind her machine and skillfully threaded the needle in one slick movement. Her passion radiated from her work.

At the age of 10, her father got her an electrical sewing machine that she began to use to sew. In 1979 her elder brother got her a machine that she could do both sewing and embroidery work and this gave her work an extra boost. She noted that at the time she began to sew she had to move around on crutches with the help of someone and it was difficult to get the materials needed for sewing. But things have changed now. Her younger sibling had gotten her a computerized embroidery machine that opened paths for the development of her work.

In her long career of sewing, she had done various types of dresses. Evening gowns, children's dresses, baby sets, wedding gowns, party dresses and etc. She takes inspiration from fashion design books to create her own designs and the designs she had done left people astonished. The awards that she had won in numerous exhibitions speak loudly for the care and details she puts into her creations. She had continually won first, second and third place in the category of sewing and embroidery in every exhibition she had entered.

But despite being a leading inspiration in her field she doesn’t have a social media presence.