Teenager Anis Humairah Riduwan might have left school at age 15, but she hasn’t stopped learning. From her home in Lubok Merbau, a village not far from Kuala Kangsar, Perak, the 18-year-old has become the face of her family’s business on social media.
Anis helps to market the telekung (prayer shawls) that she and her mother sew by posting their products on Facebook and Instagram, and engaging their customers.
Roziah Mohd Raziki, Anis’ 43-year-old mother, is proud that her daughter is a skilled tailor. She can measure, cut and sew a baju kurung, shawls and skirts, says her mum, and Anis is also good at needlework, especially embroidery, applique and knitting.
Anis has come a long way since being diagnosed with a hearing and learning disability at age 10. Until then, Roziah had assumed Anis didn’t do well academically because she was a daydreamer and a late bloomer.
But Anis’ diagnosis galvanised Roziah into taking a different approach in her upbringing. She took her daughter’s challenges in stride and decided to make the most of the resources available to their family. When Anis was 13, Roziah, a tailor, decided to teach Anis how to sew too.
“Anis needs an essential skill set that can help her make a living,” says Roziah, who encouraged Anis to complete a two-year creative sewing certification course at SM Pendidikan Khas Vokasional Merbok in Bedong, Kedah, after Form 3.
“I am a seamstress, so I felt it was a good idea to pass down this skill on to my child.”
The path that Roziah helped to chart for Anis has led her to discover and develop her aptitude for needlework.
Anis’ talent won the embroidery category at the Abilympics Malaysia competition this year, and she will represent the country at the International Abilympics in Moscow in 2020. It is an international skills-based competition for Persons with Disabilities (PWDs).
She’s among 15 people with disabilities from Malaysia vying for a medal at the the event. Among the 30 categories in the competition are embroidery, floral arrangement, painting, cooking and photography.
“Words cannot describe how happy I am,” says Anis, who uses a hearing device but has no speech issues. She is articulate but also shy. “I never dreamed of representing Malaysia in any competition, especially with my disability. I thank my parents for all their support.”
To win, she will have to beat the competition in terms of speed, creativity and technical knowledge, so Anis been travelling to Kuala Lumpur regularly for week-long embroidery training with UiTM fashion lecturer Dr Rose Dahlina Rusli since early 2019.
Dr Rose is teaching the teenager various embroidery techniques including the chain stitch, satin stitch, French knot and Lazy Daisy. She hopes to improve her student’s speed and give her a bigger repertoire of skills.
“She’s a fast learner. She’s very capable and talented. Her skills are really good. It proves that a person’s disability should never be viewed as an obstacle to strive for greater things,” says Dr Rose.
Anis was diagnosed as a slow learner and had never done well academically, but she has excelled in needlework. Roziah accompanies Anis when she goes to the city as Anis is still not fully independent yet.
Building a future
Training for an Abilympic gold is important, but Roziah has bigger dreams for Anis. Ultimately, she wants Anis to use her sewing skills to attain self-reliance and earn her own income.
“My aim is to equip Anis with the skills to be independent and take care of herself when my husband and I are older,” says Roziah, whose biggest worry about Anis is her future. She has three other children without special needs.
In Malaysia, there are many programmes for children with special needs, but there is a gap in job training for disabled young adults. Those living in the cities may have opportunities for vocational training or job programmes, but chances like that are few and far between in the country’s rural areas.
Instead of despairing, Roziah has involved Anis in her home-based business, Telekung Hannani, which she set up seven years ago. The business is named after Roziah’s fifth child who died in 2012 from a heart complication.
“I’ve always liked sewing. From young, I used to help ibu thread the needle and sew buttons. I’m happy she has given me the chance to help the business and thankful for her guidance. Because I can sew, I can (maybe) get a job doing beadwork at a bridal shop in Kuala Kangsar,” says Anis.
Meanwhile, the teenager is happy to model her creations on social media, even though Roziah has reservations because she is all too aware of her daughter’s vulnerability.
“Even if she gets a job, she can’t earn much. She might be bullied and have to work long hours. She has problems with balance too. What if she tripped and lose consciousness on the street? For now, I can’t allow her to work anywhere far from home.”
So, Roziah believes it is safest for mother and daughter to work together at home. “At home, I can look after her. She needs to learn that running a business isn’t easy. Thankfully, she’s a good student. She never complains and is always willing to learn, despite my nagging and fussing,” says Roziah.
Roziah and Anis sew cotton and polyester telekung. The 4m prayer pieces come in four designs: classic, with lace trimmings, mini (for kids) and shawls with zippered pockets. The shawls are priced from RM68 to RM95.
On average, they sell 40 to 60 shawls a month. Roziah considers this brisk business, with the highest demand for their shawls with pockets. They work seven days a week, from eight to 12 hours a day, depending on the orders they have.
“Sure, we enjoy our work but the hours can be long and tiring. Ibu and I joke and share stories while completing the orders. I accept whatever she pays me, which is about RM1,000 a month that I keep in my savings account,” says Anis.
“These telekung are our creations, so I am proud to wear them,” she explains. “So far, our pieces are purchased by women who are going to perform their umrah or hajj. Hopefully, we can reach a bigger target audience via online sales.”
Roziah is pleased with her daughter’s determination though Anis says, with a grin, “Ibu is a strict teacher. Even though she scolds me, I know it’s for my own good.”
Roziah says her daughter’s confidence has grown as she becomes more involved in the business. “She is very committed and hardworking. These days, she isn’t shy to interact with customers and promote our telekung at bazaars,” says Roziah.
Anis recognises that she is doing well too, thanks to her mother’s belief in her.
“I wouldn’t be here without my mother’s support. My parents have been my pillars of strength. They have encouraged me to be my best. So my advice to other people with disabilities is, never feel shy about your limitations. Strive for greater things in life,” says Anis.