Over the sound of the waves, the cool of the breeze and the rustle of coconut palms, Faiza, from Dhiffushi Island, shares moments from her life with me. With a glint in her eyes, serenity on her face and conviction in her voice, Faiza is one of the most active women in her community. At 44 years of age she is grandmother to one, mother to three, and a role model to many others, and has been a volunteer at the “Kaafu Dhiffushi Ekuveringe Roshan Club” (aka Dhiffushi Unity Club) for over 15 years.
She does not hold any official post at the Club, but rather chose to be an active member, as her commitment to her family is her priority. Faiza, with a shy but loving smile, says “I have no desire to do anything without my husband’s permission”. She also adds, “He has never stopped me from anything though”. She was married at 16, of her own choice, and she says she cannot have asked for a better partner. Despite this, Faiza is right at the forefront of most community initiatives.
“I have always been involved – but it was not easy when my children were little. On days it was difficult and tiring - I relied on my friends and neighbors.” This she says with some gravity in her voice. If there is any sorrow she carries with her, it is the absence of her mother by her side – who passed away when Faiza was only 3 years old. She believes she could have done more with a mother’s support. Faiza’s husband, a fisherman by profession, spends most of his days on the high seas, so the burden of child rearing was hers. She has no regrets, no hard feelings; if anything, she is thankful for his unwavering moral and financial support. She says it is a partnership.
Faiza’s one regret is not attaining an education. Faiza received some education, at Maktabul Ameen, gaining a couple of years of elementary education in her teen years. “My father tried his best. We were poor and there simply were no opportunities back then. I made up though - by ensuring my children got the education that I craved”. Her children completed their secondary schooling away from home, in Male’ City, as only up to grade seven was offered then. Dhiffushi has progressed and currently offers up to Grade 10. This she counts as a blessing for the community and hopes it will reduce the outward migration to the city that had been taking place as people choose to leave so their children can be educated.
She very proudly says that her children have grown up beautifully, all are educated, and now serving the country. “My eldest is a Police Corporal” this she says with unmatched pride. “The youngest is in tourism, and my daughter is doing an online course, she is a teacher”. Faiza notes the importance of the internet and other facilities to ensure her children are empowered. Her daughter and two sons are clearly the joy of her life. You can hear that in her voice and see that in her laugh lines.
She does not stop just with her kids though. She strives to provide the same level of support to others in her community. When we met, she was transiting in Male’, from Dhiffushi on her way to Sun Island Resort with the ‘dance group’ of her Club. They were going to perform for tourists. It’s one of their fund raising activities, as well as a source of income and support mechanism for the performers. She is the mother figure and spoke fondly of the team – young men and women. She was asked if she was the manager of the group, to which she chuckled “I am part of the team, I dance too!” Not many Maldivian women of her age will be seen dancing; this speaks volumes about her vibrancy and community spirit.
She has a very positive outlook on life and everything about her community. Dhiffushi Island, with a population of about 1,200, is a typical rural island of the Maldives. The close proximity to the city has its advantages, and yet it is comfortably isolated and relatively quiet and peaceful.
Her outgoing personality ensures that she makes thriving networks wherever she goes. One effort she recalls with delight is getting the much needed resources to refurbish the community school premises through the financial backing of a resort she is acquainted with. Of other accomplishments, she marks with pride the Club’s role in installation of electricity on the island for the first time. “It was not the government, but the Unity Club that met this basic need”. She draws a picture of jovial camaraderie in such endeavors, especially by the women. “The men do the work, we feed them”.
She reaffirms that women in her community are very much empowered and have freedom in comparison to what we hear in the media. However, shortage of employment is an issue and this mostly affects women, she says. Most young men follow their fathers` footsteps into fishing, while women do not have much of an opportunity at economic activity. Faiza does not let this rest though - she had helped some women to start weaving of coconut palm fronds. These are then bought by resorts for thatching of their cottages, and provide some income to local women.
She recounts with gravity that there are social issues that still need to be tackled – including drug abuse, skill-building for more sustainable employment opportunities, and further education. Faiza is an energetic and kind soul who advocates dialogue, mutual respect, and compassion in addressing such issues. Her free spirit, ability to travel widely and frequently, and her commitment to her husband and family also speak volumes about the role of men in empowering women. If there is a lesson to be learned from her story, it is about positivity, generosity of volunteerism, and a harmonized co-existence that ensures success.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous digital media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.Voices of Our Future 2013 Assignments: Profiles