PETALING JAYA: When life handed her lemons, single mother Salena Ahmad made more than just lemonade.
Despite going through a rough patch after her marriage failed in 2014, she picked herself up and went a step further – she helped others do the same.
Salena, or Sally to her friends, initially fell into despair as she struggled to piece her life together with a toddler and a son in university to support.
“I had no income. I had to rely on what little savings I had,” said Sally, a former entrepreneur.
But the determined woman refused to give up.
“I learned that I had to stop feeling sorry for myself and embrace the pain in order to move on.
“To change my fate, I first had to believe that I could make the change,” said the 50-year-old.
She learned to sew and eventually found a purpose in life again.
Sally, one of the 10 winners of the Star Golden Hearts Awards 2018, was inspired to help empower other single mothers in her community.
In 2015, she set up Suri, a social enterprise that upcycles denim into new chic items and provides single mothers with job opportunities and other skills.
As someone who had walked in their shoes, Sally understood their plight and wanted to help them regain their confidence.
“I count myself lucky because I picked up certain skills after running my own business before, but these women do not have such expertise,” she said.
She also observed that many women had to depend on alimony payments, donations and zakat (tithes) to make ends meet.
She also saw that these women possessed the drive and willingness to learn new skills to improve their livelihood.
As they became empowered, Sally also hoped that they could help others in the same boat.
Sally did not go through her journey alone. She was backed by her son Amer Asyraf Azruell Azlan, 22, and mentor Anja Juliah Abu Bakar, 44, a winner of the Star Golden Hearts Award 2017.
In the early days of Suri, Amer was in his last university semester of his aircraft engineering course, but he decided to defer his studies to help his mother.
Sally’s friend Anja runs her own social enterprise, Blubear Holdings, selling eco-friendly and reusable sanitary products.
“I respect Sally so much. I would not have had the courage to pull through as she did,” Anja said.