“...I found myself at the pawn shop, selling the last of my belongings that was of any value. Other days, I cleaned houses near the homeless shelter I lived in but most days I was just a young woman, questioning her own existence while being raised by life itself and guided by faith”
I am Yasmin Jamaal and this is my journey so far...
I was born in a place where the sea almost surrounds the land, a place that is home to the freed slaves, a place where no man feels like a stranger, a place that has gone through hard times but still stands beautiful, and poverty is still a battle we face but we have one vision and that is to keep moving forward.
I was born in Sierra Leone, the West Coast of Africa.
A country that truly represents the colours on its flag: green, white and blue.
Green for the trees that cover the majority of the land, white for the sandy beaches and blue for the sea that surrounds the coastline.
My Father: Sierra Leonean and Lebanese
My Mother: Sierra Leonean, Lebanese, Malian, Senegalese and Nigerian
There are more similarities than there are differences between my African and Arabic culture, meaning I didn’t have to compromise on either side of my heritage. Instead, I have formed my identity and character from both cultures, which make up a vital part of my identity impacting all aspects of my life.
I grew up during the civil war in Sierra Leone and I still remember the horrors and the occasional moments of humour as we escaped from one village to another. One being the day my mother decided to have a bath in the river while gunshots were being fired nearby. Sometimes I found myself being piggy backed by my father while my brother walked alongside my mum on our journey.
Once the war was over, it was a new start for my family. One that came with the heartbreak of losing everything my Father had worked for as a young man.
A couple of years after the war ended, father passed away at the age of 45. On the day papa took his last breath, we had just had our usual daddy daughter phone call. A voice and memory that still feels raw as I write this sentence.
40 days after my Father passed away, my grandma (Father’s mother) passed away. Thereafter, my Uncle (Father’s younger brother), my grandma (Mother’s mum) and my Aunt (Mother’s sister) passed away. All-important figures in my life.
It was as if death paid an uninvited visit to our home and decided to stay for a little while longer.
Moving to the Uk
January 2011, I relocated to London.
December 2012, I was made homeless. My belongings were taken out of my room and thrown out onto the street. I gathered what I had and headed to the homeless association to ask for a place to stay. I was offered a room at Stephen House Youth Hostel, a shelter for homeless young adults now owned by the Salvation Army. To this day, I wonder what life would have been like had I not been offered shelter there.
Creativity, Mental Health and Court Summon
While at the shelter, I attended college taking creative courses in interior design and fashion garment making, which kept my mind busy as I battled countless anxiety and panic attacks; terms I had never heard of until I went down that path. I would visit the pawn shop every other day to sell what was left of everything I owned to pay for materials needed for my creative course. On periods when I had nothing valuable to sell, I would knock on doors in my neighbourhood, redecorated, cleaned houses and mended clothes for a tip.
Mentally, I reached a point where I locked myself indoors for months on end. Going out only when I needed groceries. Refusing to check letters that came through my door and later standing in front of over a hundred people in court explaining why I was not keeping up with my bills.
What you have read is a little glimpse into my journey a couple of years ago.
But what I have learnt from having to grow up so quickly is that life gives the hardest battles to the toughest of its soldiers. As a believer, I would say, God does not give you a burden you cannot carry and angels really do exist in human form. They are the people who offer you a helping hand as you fall through life, the ones that come into your life during your journey and become lifelong friends and finally, the ones that come into your life and stay for a short while, leaving you broken. They are also a gift from the universe because you grow stronger as you heal from the wounds they have left within you.
My past shaped me into the woman I have become, but I am still the same girl who lives a life in which I do not define myself by the material things I have but by the energy I bring to those around me and me serving my purpose with humility.
For the wonderful women out there who have inspiring stories and insightful advice to share, I have created the Guest Blog as a safe space where we can write, share and support each other. This is not just my website or blog, this is OUR space and I cannot wait to hear from you.
International Relations & Development Studies Graduate
Creative Director: Yasmin Jamaal
Founder: The Jamaal Foundation
Creative Director & Interior Designer: Jamaal Interiors
Real life story teller
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