“They put my daughter on a child protection programme.”
The house buzzed with excitement, Shazia had just finished packing. As she zipped up her small suitcase, she smiled to herself; finally, a little summer break!
Shazia and her family were preparing for a small three day getaway in the UK. Money was tight so they opted to stay somewhere local, but they had saved up for months for this day and now it was here, it was going to be just as good as anyone else’s holiday.
BANG! BANG! Someone was at the door, ‘Okay! We’re coming!’ Shouted Shazia’s daughter, rushing to see what was so urgent. ‘No wait, I’ll go’; her brother Omar emerged from the front room and approached the door, feeling annoyed by the disturbance the visitors were causing his family.
Shazia was still upstairs when she heard the banging on the door, then she heard her daughter’s scream followed by the sound of thumping through the house. Her heart raced uncontrollably. She rushed downstairs to see her son being dragged away by police, but before she could register what was happening, a towering police officer replete with a bullet proof vest and armour, was before her, escorting her trembling body, along with her daughter, into the front room.
“He said that all of you stay, you are not allowed to use the phone just sit down. They made us sit together for 4 or 5 hours. They made us sit and do nothing. I felt like I was a prisoner, my daughter’s face was all pale. When my daughter needed the toilet they went to the door and stood outside.”
Shazia knew her community would turn her away, so was forced to resign to a local hostel with her family for the next three days while her home was searched. Her mind was foggy, and while she was struggling to process the events that had unfolded, she knew she needed to continue to support herself and her family. She simply couldn’t afford a minute off work; she had to return, especially since she was now the only remaining bread-winnerâ€¦
“I work in a nursery and went in the next day. My 10 year old daughter attends the same school. While at work, I had a phone call from the social worker, saying we are taking your daughter out. They said if you don’t allow us to, we will be coming to the nursery where you work.”
Shazia’s ten year old daughter would face constant monitoring from that day onward. Her daughter was drowned by social workers, interviews and endless meetings at the school she had believed would have been her solace during her time of need.
“They put her on some kind of child protection programme. They have regular meetings by taking my daughter out of class. Sometimes the mentor comes, sometimes the social worker comes, and so different people are talking to her.They threatened to take my daughter away from me when I was at the nursery. I thought that when I go to pick up my daughter from school she will be gone. That’s what it felt like.
“They ask some questions which I find really upsetting, like they asked my nine year old about marriage, who is going to choose your husband, are you going to choose your own husband or are you going to let your brother choose your husband.”
Even as Shazia’s daughter slept, she could not escape the nightmares of dark figures, with a desperate thirst for pain in their eyes, falling on top of her, causing her to wake and scream for her mother to come and save her…
“â€¦She won’t sleep at night. When she goes to bed, she is kicking her legs, moving around, tossing and turning. She never did that before.
“Sometimes she is sitting there, and she looks depressed, quiet and upset, thinking about things. She says, ‘I was just day dreaming’; she doesn’t want to tell me about what is upsetting her.”
But the intervention didn’t stop with Shazia’s daughter. Working in a school had meant Shazia would also be ‘kept an eye on’. To her utter humiliation, all of her colleagues found out about her son when social workers came to visit her work place, speaking to her colleagues and manager.
“They made me out to be like a criminal, I am a criminal in my work place.”
Everywhere Shazia turned she was being met with accusations against her son and her energy to defend him was wearing thin. She needed to see him, so she could remember her son for the kind, loving person he was. But at her age, the prospect of driving to a different city to see him was a painful thoughtâ€¦
“I am getting older. When I travel far, my bones hurt and my legs get exhausted and it’s too much, I can only drive in this area. If I don’t have someone sitting with me I end up getting lost.”
One day as Shazia sat thinking about her situation, a tear rolled down her cheek. She searched her heart for an answer but she felt like there was no way out. There was no escape. There was no remedy for her pain. She just longed for someone to turn to, someone to just listen to the pain of this mother who had been enduring hell for the past few monthsâ€¦
That’s when her phone started to ring, it was a number she didn’t recognize and just as she was about to reject the call, she slid her finger the other way and answered. She was greeted with an enthusiastic ‘salaam!’ – the salutation of peace. It was a sweet voice, a woman’sâ€¦
“She told me about HHUGS. She asked, ‘would you like to come and meet so that we can help you?’ If they didn’t phone I wouldn’t have known there is somebody like HHUGS. I was just talking to her, just getting things off my chest…”
After hearing of Shazia’s plight, the HHUGS keyworker registered her and assessed her needs. More than anything else, Shazia was in need of emotional and social support. People who would accept her and her family and who would show kindness and mercy to her, and her keyworker did exactly this.
“She phones and she asks how I am and if I need anything. Ma sha Allah when there is a problem, she wants to come down to my house and if I need to talk to her and I am feeling that I am upset about something, I talk to her, and she tells me she is there for me.”
HHUGS immediately registered Shazia and her daughter for their social recreational programme, ensuring that she was invited to coffee mornings, retreats, outings and Eid parties – all of which were organised by HHUGS volunteers – so she could meet with families in a similar situation and offload in a non-judgmental space. She was nervous at her first coffee morning, but couldn’t believe her eyes as she entered the small venue, where month after month Shazia and her family would be greeted with love, respect and smiling sisters.
“They organise it so well. They just book a little hall and a big play area, they put like a bouncy castle and children’s activities and that’s enough. They actually make the children participate in games and stuff, prizes, and goody bags. They organise biryani and the sisters make the fresh cakes. She gets people to come to do the sisters hair, just like Mehndi for the children. Ma sha Allah they organize it well. It’s a nice environment, it makes you forget for a little while, it’s like everything is gone. You forget about everything, all the problems you have and it just keeps you going… I think that little bit keeps me going.
“If that wasn’t there, I know I would have had the worst time – perhaps I would be depressed, maybe have a mental breakdown, but because of this, I am getting out, you know? Seeing the sisters, helping each other, supporting each other, and talking about our problems.”
Over the years, HHUGS provided holistic support to Shazia. To help her manage financially, they provided her with support with her bills, monthly food vouchers, winter clothing and debt relief. When Shazia mentioned that she couldn’t visit her son without help, HHUGS drivers were ready to take her. All she needed to do was book the visit and let HHUGS know and a driver would come to collect her and take her home.
“The brothers who take us they are really good. It’s a comfortable journey, you feel relaxed and happy to go see him. They make it possible to see my son.
“At the visit, my son gets to talk to my daughter too, he tells her, ‘Make sure you behave yourself, make sure you work hard in school and be good to Mum and respect each other.’ She is happy to see him, she wants to go see him because it makes her happy.”
HHUGS paid for Shazia to attend professional counselling therapy to tackle the trauma she has experienced, and ensured she had a keyworker who would continue to provide her with the emotional support she needed.
“I am not joking, HHUGS are there for me, it’s like my second family, you know, Ma sha Allah. They are closer to me than my own brothers and sisters. My family, they are not there. They helped, especially with prison visits, something my own brothers won’t do for me. I know if I didn’t have anybody, I know I would have had a mental breakdown. Things would have been worse for me.
“Whatever situation that is happening to me and other brothers and sisters, it can happen to you. Nobody is safe. You can say ‘I am ok,’ but it can happen to anybody. Islam is about brotherhood and sisterhood; we need to look after each other. Everybody should help and support HHUGS.”