Has anyone ever played such a major role in your life that you now live your life by their guiding principles?
For 34-year-old Nasheela Begum Nizammudin, her source of inspiration was her maternal aunt; the person who was there to help her through her growing years as well as some of the darkest times in her life.
Sheela, as she is known by her friends, hails from a modest family and is the eldest of three siblings.
As both of her parents were busy working full-time to support the household, Sheela spent most of her formative years under the care of her aunt, someone who she regarded as her second mum.
From when she was a toddler until she was around 11 years of age, Sheela was loved and guided by her aunt – the person who taught her about generosity and giving.
Even though her aunt was not an affluent person herself, Sheela described her as someone big-hearted who often told her to help the less fortunate, no matter how small the gesture.
“She was a very understanding and kind person. It can be as small as buying tissue from those [street] sellers, you know? Every little bit helps,” she recalled.
Meeting the Wrong Partner
When Sheela turned 18, she was involved in a toxic relationship that saw her become a single mother to two daughters by the time she turned 23.
“I used to mix with the wrong company, and I thought he was the one. I didn’t know that he’d turn out to be a violent person,” she said.
While Sheela’s own parents did not agree that she should keep the children, her aunt lent support and offered the young mother and her children a place to stay.
At one point, Sheela’s aunt even offered to adopt her daughters to be raised as her own, so that Sheela would not have to bear the responsibilities of being a single mother. Though generous, it was an offer that Sheela ultimately refused, instead opting to have her help look after the girls while she was at work.
“She was like a mother to both me and my children. She helped to look after us. Even though we may sometimes argue, she was always a good listener and a good advisor,” Sheela shared.
Getting Back on Track
Sheela eventually found full-time employment at Cold Storage as a sales assistant and started clocking the hours to give her daughters the best life she could afford them.
She admitted that this would not have been possible if her aunt had not been there to care for her children.
She said: “It was my decision to keep and raise both my children, so I had to sacrifice my [social] life. I went to work, I went back home, I didn’t spend time outside with my friends. It was like between the age of 23 to 30, all I did was work.”
But Sheela soldiered on. Today, she still works for Cold Storage, but she has since been promoted to a store supervisor.
Her daughters turn 15 and 11 this year.
The Legacy of a Benefactor
Unfortunately, Sheela’s aunt passed away from health complications in 2017.
Even though it has been over four years, Sheela fought to control her emotions whenever she recalled specific events pertaining to her aunt.
“I am very sensitive, and I get very emotional when I think about her,” she admitted.
But the memory of her aunt and her kindness lives on in Sheela.
Armed with her own personal desire to give back to society and cherish her aunt’s memory, Sheela signed up as both a union branch official to help her fellow workers in need, as well as a Gift from the Heart (GFTH) volunteer to help less fortunate union members.
GFTH is the Food, Drinks and Allied Workers Union (FDAWU) and the Chemical Industries Employees’ Union (CIEU) annual initiative that helps lower-wage union members by providing grocery and essential household items.
When asked why she chose to volunteer for this initiative, she simply replied: “When I had to face my problems, I still had the support of my aunt. But there are other people who do not even have this kind of support.
“This is my way of giving back to those less fortunate than myself.”