Afnan's Journey: From Darkness to Light

In Afnan's Journey: From Darkness to Light, Mashael tells how Afnan finds hope and happiness again with her family's help and her cousin Shahad's support, showing how love and understanding can conquer tough times.

A lone person emerging out of a tunnel

My name is Mishael. I hail from the Middle East, married with children. My father has two wives, which is acceptable in our Islamic religion and culture, but the main thing that Islam emphasizes is fairness among wives. We are a large family with six daughters from my mother, three sons, and children from stepmother, my father’s second wife. Amidst this family dynamic, there is a special person: my sister, Afnan.

Afnan, my sister from both my mother and father, was a vibrant and cheerful child during her early years. She played with us, shared meals, and was an integral part of our family. Her academic excellence in primary school showcased her potential. However, as time passed, Afnan’s demeanor began to change that was, at first, unnoticed by the family. She withdrew, ate alone, and refrained from sharing her thoughts with us.

At that time, I was a university student, occupied with my studies and raising a child. It was only when my grandmother and aunt moved back to our city that Afnan’s transformation was noticed. They questioned her solitary behavior, prompting us to take notice. Strangely, my sister never went to the lower floor of our home, where our stepmother lived. Instead, she became isolated, staying in her room as much as possible. Her face turned pale, reflecting a sense of sorrow, as if she was suffering from an unseen illness.

Afnan was living in a state of sadness and isolation, and she wished she didn’t exist. Within my culture, we don’t talk about mental health or have any way to describe it. However, Afnan’s belief that she would be better off not here showed that she was struggling with mental health. These dark thoughts represented the extent of the pain that Afnan suffered during that difficult period in her life.

Fortunately, with the arrival of my aunt’s daughter, Shahad, Afnan’s life took a positive turn. Shahad actively encouraged Afnan to engage with the family, bridging the gap that had developed over time. Afnan soon realized the profound love she had for her family and discovered the joy that comes with being a part of a supportive environment.

I noticed that Afnan’s condition improved however, she disliked my stepmother and would not sit with us if she was present.

Finally, I found myself so worried about my sister I had to ask her about how she is feeling. What she revealed left me in shock. Afnan disclosed that our stepmother, who happened to also be her schoolteacher, subjected her to physical abuse during class. She endured unjustifiable slaps.

One day, one of the other teacher’s witnessed what was happening to Afnan, shouting: “Stop, she is just a child” My stepmother’s response was that she was justified in hitting Afnan because she didn’t complete her schoolwork properly. This made me very angry. Why did the other teacher not help Afnan? Did the teacher’s friendship with my stepmother prevent her? Why did she not carry out her role as a teacher and protect my sister? Where was her compassion as a human being?

Afnan hesitated to speak up earlier, fearing she wouldn’t be believed, given my father’s tendency to side with his wife. Afnan confessed that before Shahad’s intervention, she had stopped enjoying seeing her friends and family. Instead, she withdrew from her friends, preferring to stay in her room alone where she felt safe from the outside world that now seemed so scary. She would try to sleep as much of the day away as possible, lacked self-confidence, and even told me once: “I don’t want to be here anymore.”

After Shahad’s intervention, Afnan’s life has begun to take a positive turn, and she is now a thriving university student, who lives a vibrant and fulfilled life. The purpose of sharing this story is to highlight the transformative power of support and understanding within a family. Afnan’s journey from isolation to integration, from self-loathing to self-discovery, emphasises the importance of checking on our loved ones and the power of love to help overcome mental distress. Her story is a testament to the positive impact that caring individuals, like Shahad, can have on someone’s life.

So, let this be a reminder to support each other, to inquire about any noticeable changes, and to lend a listening ear when needed. Afnan’s story shows how important it is to make time to check up on people our loved ones.

Written by Mashael a student on placement at Sheffield Flourish

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