Abdullah Hassim and his mother Nabilah

Twenty-year-old Abdullah Hassim studied relentlessly to make his parents proud.

Balancing school, work and training in youth development drained Hassim mentally and physically.

Driven by perseverance, Hassim’s heart was set on one goal- to obtain his diploma at the University of T&T (UTT).

But this dream was short-lived when Hassim unexpectedly lost his life to COVID-19 on June 5.

Hassim’s death shattered his family, in particular, his 40-year-old mother Nabilah Juman and stepfather Intaff who watched their son study every night to pass his exams but he did not live to graduate.

However, in a surprise twist, Juman recently received a phone call from UTT informing her that Hassim was one of the top performers in his mechanical engineering class and had attained first-class honours.

The class had 27 students.

UTT will award Hassim his diploma posthumously at a graduation ceremony in November.

The news triggered bittersweet feelings for Hassim’s parents.

“I cried knowing that Abdullah accomplished one of his biggest goals and he is not even here for us to celebrate and enjoy it. Yet, I was happy to know the sacrifices he made did not go in vain.”

Juman said Hassim wanted to make them proud.

She said after Hassim wrote his final exam, he began preparing himself to pursue his degree in mechanical engineering.

During the day Hassim worked as a technician at Eniath’s Printery.

In the evening he attended classes. At nights he studied. On weekends he did community work and trained in youth development.

UTT lecturer Nazim Hosein said Hassim was a student most teachers wished for.

“Yes, he fell within the ten per cent of top achievers in that class,” said Hosein who taught Hassim 20 per cent of his courses.

Hosein, who lectures in plant technology and dynamics of machines, described Hassim as a hard worker and team player.

“He was always punctual, focused, well-disciplined and delivered his assignments on time. Sometimes I used to ask him to send me his class notes to use as reference,” Hosein said.

Days after being told of Hassim’s academic achievements, Juman also found out that her son will posthumously be bestowed with the Duke of Edinburgh gold award for youth development.

Through sobs, Juman said this was another shocker for her.

“It just showed the little time Abdullah had on this earth much was accomplished. He did far more than us in our lifetime,” Juman said.

Adolescents and young adults receive this international award for completing a series of self-improvement exercises.

This award programme was founded by the late Prince Phillip in 1956 which has now expanded to 144 nations.

Chairman of the President Award Programme of T&T Roosevelt Bruce told Guardian Media that Hassim was working towards achieving his gold medal when he died.

To obtain the gold medal, the participant must undertake five categories of training.

Hassim completed only four.

“Because of Abdullah’s exemplary character in the programme we have taken the decision to award him posthumously the gold award at our next ceremony,” Bruce said.

Since her son’s passing, Juman said she has been unable to function and smile.

Her mounting stress and aching heart have caused her to shed 30 pounds.

“The pain is too much. My life is not the same….it will never be the same. It is not an easy thing to lose someone who was close and dear to you. Abdullah was such an amazing human being. I could not have asked God for a better child,” Juman said, wiping away her tears.

The things they did as a family are what Juman misses the most.

“I am not going to lie to you…every day I cry for my son. I still have the habit of going into Abdullah’s bedroom in the morning to wake him up for work and when I realise he is not there I would burst into tears. COVID has turned our lives upside down.”

Hassim was Juman’s only child-her pride and joy.

For weeks, Juman walked around with a photograph of Hassim tucked close to her heart.

“Abdullah took his last breath while resting his head on my chest and I felt by pinning his photograph on me, it would have given me some comfort.”

Juman now wears a gold chain bearing Hassim’s photograph with the words inscribed “I watched you took your first breath and saw you took your last.”

Juman said all she has are memories of her son, whose death has left a deep void in her life.