During pandemic mother spreads message of hope & paradise after life through jewellery design in memory of dead son
Early life in London
Hasina came to the UK in the mid 1970s. She settled in Croydon, south London, from Bangladesh. She could not speak a word of English and was being bullied at school.
‘I remember nobody wanted to be my friend and the teacher assigned somebody to be my friend to look after me and make sure I was okay.’
Although she made south London her home, there was something unsettling for Hasina as a teenanger.
‘So from the age of that 16, 17, I almost felt like I was on borrowed time because the school that I was at there were three or four Bangladeshi girls who all got taken out of school at the age of 16 and ...actually shipped back home… and married off there against their will.’
She confessed that she also felt the pressure from her father to get married.
‘I was determined that at least I was going to go and do my A-Levels…I was very academic and I really enjoyed going to school. I really enjoyed learning.’
None of her family members went to university at the time when Hasina was considering higher education.
‘I don't think my parents thought I'd get in. I didn't think I'd get in… I think he (her father) was quite proud of the fact that I had gotten to LSE. And that was probably the first milestone for me in my life.’
She admits that she was not equipped to deal with university life.
‘I really struggled for the first six months. I thought I was going to drop out... I hadn't been anywhere outside of south London. I had a very conservative upbringing. So on Saturdays my friends would be out, going shopping, to Oxford Street and hanging about, and that kind of thing. I wasn't allowed to do that.’
She was initially living at home and it was hard to make friends. She just went to lectures and classes. Having persuaded her father she managed to move to students hall in West End and immersed herself in higher education.
‘I think I lived on beans on toast because that's all I knew how to make… So sometimes when I'd come home at the weekend, I'd watch my mother cook and I started making things.’
Student Residents Halls
When she moved into student halls, she shared the accommodation with three American and a German girl.
‘I found it a bit difficult to adjust because their lives are so different to mine. But I enjoyed the freedom. I have to say just the freedom to be myself, to do things for myself. I was also working, so I had a Saturday job at that point. They had some sort of trust fund or something, so they didn't really need to work. I needed to work, I wanted to work.’
She admits that at the time women in her family did not work. Her mother did not work.
‘And I would say looking back on it those three years (in university) are probably the happiest period of my life. And for about a year afterwards, I used to dream about it.’
Inevitable Marriage Question
Having escaped freedom through higher education, Hasina knew that question of marriage was inevitable again.
‘Now I felt I've just graduated and at that time I was very idealistic. Coming back down to earth to reality check, and especially when the pressure was put on to get me married. I eventually I agreed. I don't think I have that much choice and that was another turning point in my life because I had my son and I sort of settled into married life into motherhood.’
When she became a mother she gave up her job working in communications for the Railway Authority. Her usual routine after child birth was waiting for her husband to come back home and make dinner for him and look after her boy.
Ken Livingstone: London Mayor
After a few years of being a house wife, she was feeling bored. She applied for a part time job to work in communications for Lambeth Council. Whilst she worked for the council in 2003, a job came up to work for Ken Livingstone, then Mayor of London.
‘It was my old manager and another lady who was working at the council, who encouraged me to apply because I didn't really have journalism experience.’
To her surprise, a week after the interview, Hasina was working in Ken's office, advising him on a public relations campaign. From then on her life changed dramatically again because this was a 24/7 job. She was on call at weekends, evenings and throughout the night. In 2005 when Islamic terrorists attacked London it was a very stressful period for Hasina.
‘I was in a train at Stockwell and suddenly all the lights went off.... I checked my phone. I started seeing all the messages coming through from the met police. And then there were words: bodies and explosions.’
Hasina contacted her boss, she told Hasina to go home. She felt she should be at work so she walked from Stockwell to London Bridge.
‘I got into London Bridge and it's the first time I personally felt fearful for myself… If there's going to be another attack what's going to happen. You think is this irresponsible of me because I'm going into work and leaving my son here.’
Hasina did not see her son as much but her husband at the time stepped up and taken him to school and giving him breakfast. She felt she was very lucky because her husband started work early and finished early, so he would collect Sammy until she got home.
Boris Johnson & Muslim connection
In 2008 Boris Johnson became London Mayor, replacing Ken. Hasina's role was non-political. She wanted to grow and learn from a different political administration and to make her mark.
‘There had been a lot of Muslim community organisations that had… supported Ken Livingstone and were briefly against Boris Johnson. And I thought this is an opportunity because I had a lot of contact in the Muslim community with the different groups and organisations…And I thought this is really important for my community to connect because he is going to be making decisions that would affect them.’
One of the things Hasina suggested was for the Mayor to show that he was for all communities, including Muslim communities. So she and her colleagues organised a visit to the London Muslim centre, East London.
‘We arrived and all of a sudden 200 people came out of nowhere and they were really interested in what Boris had to say. We had the press conference and the chair of East London Mosque spoke and we spoke. And actually, this is so strange.'
From then on the ice between the Mayor and the Muslim community had broken due to the connection and hard work of Hasina.
Death of son and discovery of Islam
Having worked at the Mayor’s Office for over eight years, she moved on to work for the Transport for London in 2014. It was during this period, her son passed away.
He was killed in a road traffic collision by an uninsured driver. She remembers his last works:
‘I'll be back in five minutes. And the next thing was that the police came to my house and they said, we think you need to sit up. I didn't know why they had come to my house. And they gave me the news and I just couldn't process it.’
From then on, she began to explore Islam, the religion for Muslims.
‘So…I started learning about Islam. The most amazing thing... is it gives us hope that we will see our loved ones in a different place, in a better place from the mercy of Allah. And we will never be separated from them again. And that's the hope that always keep alive within me that one day I will see Sammy again.’
It was at this point in her life she began to wear hijab, veil Muslim women wear to show modesty, and started praying five times a day because she wanted to connect with Islam in a meaningful way.
Jewellery design business
Whilst Hasina overcame the trauma of loss of her only son, she had seen an Arabic proverb online which said: ‘In paradise love is without separation.’
‘It really resonated with me… It gave me that hope and I had this idea of getting it made into a pendant, and I had seen it written in Arabic and in English.’
Having designed and made a number of pendants, she began to set up a business. She began to promote her designs on websites and Instagram.
‘It was a massive success. I had no brand presence. Nobody had heard of me. Nobody knew what Soul Gems London was about but through contacts and networks, through sharing things on social media, people actually became very drawn to the brand. And I think people connected with my story as well.’
Pandemic & Soul Gems London
During the pandemic anxiety level increased among different communities dramatically.
‘the messages on my jewellery were very positive. They're very uplifting and they're constant reminders that outside of ourselves, there is a bigger purpose and... there is a greater power who's driving things forward, a greater power that has our best interest at heart that turns in our favour.’
During the initial period of lockdown people were in isolation and couldn't visit their loved ones. It was then:
‘people ordered pieces of jewellery to send it to (their) loved ones. And then you could see from the orders that the addresses for delivery were very different and the addresses that the person had ordered from.’
Hasina's friend lost her father.
‘She got tearful when she got the present because for her, it was such a big reminder that actually in paradise, she will be with the ones that she loves. I was getting these amazing messages from these sisters.’
Be kind to yourself
During the pandemic the focus has been on caring for our loved ones. She spent a lot of time after her son's death feeling very guilty, sometimes feeling angry, grief and sorrow. She admits she was very hard on herself.
‘And the last person we are kind to is ourselves. And it's so important for our mental health that we must know, we have to give ourselves a break. I've also (learnt) the value of making connections with people. I think that's what brought us through that.’
She had also seen how kind people have been to each other, checking on people and doing food drops and businesses have been delivering food to people. People have really come together and supported each other.
‘And for me the jewellery thing isn't that different from the communications, because that's about connecting with people...to change people's lives.’