At nineteen years old, as I left home to seek refuge in a strange land, my father made du’as for me that I imagine are the driving force that saved my life. On the day I left, my father prayed hard, he cried, he made du’as. I distinctly remember the dua he made, as he placed his hand on my head – he asked God to protect me, he asked God to guide me and he asked God to make all the people I would encounter be those whom would extend their humility and embrace me – he asked and prayed that God’s creation be my family, be protective, be friendly and loving towards me. I am now in my forties, I have survived and had overcome many obstacles and through all that, there has always been encounters with a strangers that were loving, caring and trusting, they stood behind me, in front of me, beside me and with me.
So far I have come across some incredibly generous, kind, friendly people on my journey. I remember the first woman that stood by me when what could only be described as the hardest, darkest and difficult time of my life. I was in my early 20’s, still trying to adjust to being in a new country, far from family, friends and all that I knew. Here I was a new single mother with a tiny baby all alone, living in an area that had no one that neither looked like me nor believed what I believed. I was so excited to have my baby, I made sure I had everything ready, but little did I prepare for the reality of the stress that came with a broken marriage. The reality of all of that transformed itself into post natal depression. Post natal depression had crept into my young motherhood life stealing my joy. By the grace of God, I found the courage to go talk to my GP. She was an exceptional woman. I am yet to meet a doctor so dedicated to her patient as Dr. Warda was. Dr. Warda, didn’t only help me with coping with my post natal depression, she became a friend. She came to visit me and my baby on a regular basis. She understood my isolation.
Then, Dr. Warda introduced me to yet another incredibly woman, a fabulous human being called Maurine. Maurine with her heavy Scottish accent which at times, I didn’t understand had become the surrogate mother I needed at the time. She too visited a lot; she went far and beyond her call of duty to make sure I and my child had all the support we needed. By then my little one had become a toddler and I was enrolled at the local college. I had made some friends and life was hopeful. One day she excitedly called; keen to tell me she has found a women’s group that she thinks would be ideal for me. She came over to pick up me and my toddler to go visit the women’s organisation and introduce me to the group leader. Maurine too understood my loneliness.
“Women and Work”, wasn’t only a place where one went to socialise or train or seek employment – it was where one went to find others alike. It was where one found support, found creativity and most of all laughter, sisterhood and beyond. Here I met ‘the angel in disguise’- she was called Sujjata, the group leader for the Asian Women group (a branch within the women’s group). Sujjata was a very bubbly, welcoming and loving individual. I believe she saw something within me that I hadn’t yet recognised myself. She was the force behind my academic success, she was my mentor. Every now and then the dark clouds of depression would slip through my thoughts and I would lose motivation to go to college or attend group sessions – Sujjata would come to the house to pick me up, basically drag me out of my thoughts with her smiles, hugs and just pure kindness. Empowering women was her job and subhan Allah she did it well. I will forever be grateful to her. She recognised the intelligent, talented me. She saw me and not my depression.
After a couple of years studying this or that, volunteering here and there, one day Sujjata introduced me to the wonderful Leila, a spiritual, caring and determined individual. I was taken by Leila’s commitment to newly arrived refugees – her passion to nurture, care and protect was something that moved me deep within and still inspires me today. Leila was then the head of a department within the local education authority. She was keen on employing me for a vacancy that she believed would be ideal as there was an influx of new refugees and other ethnic minority families moving into the town. It was the beginning of my journey into the field of education, a journey which I treasure to this day. That opportunity had opened the door to working with young people, children and families – I had found my calling. Over the years, I had sat in many boards, supported many organisations in their quests to empower the needy, the vulnerable and the unvoiced.
These women might have been doing their jobs, but through their jobs and their enthusiasm in their jobs, I had found hope and myself. There have been many other strangers that came to my life to enrich it with friendship, care, nurturing and mostly humility. Looking back and looking through the various stages of life so far, it has been these strangers that stood beside me, behind me and in front of me – supporting, motivating and encouraging me in every step I have made since. I have been blessed to have come across many generous, courageous, humbled beings – for all they have done for me, I have tried to do for others. I am grateful to God for hearing my father’s prayer.
Zeinab Sulemani is a mother of one. She teaches English as a second language in a secondary school and volunteers working with young people. She is currently, training to be a children & youth counsellor and coach.