Before meeting Jumana Al Darwish for the ﬁrst time, I have to admit my eagerness was peppered with slight trepidation. Exchanges thus far had been limited to emails and messages that included many, many exclamation marks. And even more colourful emojis. As a cynical, born-and-bred Londoner, hearts and rainbows unsettle me. Could anyone over the age of 12 really be that animated, that effervescent and that happy? I pose the question to the 35-year-old founder of The Happy Box, over cucumber-infused water at Al Serkal’s organic eatery Wild & The Moon. She is immaculately turned out, sporting Gianvito Rossi pumps and magenta lips, expertly negotiating the vertiginous staircase without batting an eyelid while I follow her up cautiously in ﬂats (no lipstick). “I’m bubbly, yes” she conﬁrms “I always have been, but I’m also a realist.” It doesn’t take long to resolve the paradox.
Throughout the interview, it becomes clear that while Jumana may dot the i’s and cross the t’s with bursts of glitter and a ﬁstful of confetti, when it comes to the bottom line, she means business. This month, Jumana takes her company from providing educational arts and crafts boxes for children to establishing a new community space and lifestyle brand, The Happy Studio. And the entrepreneur is adamant that there is no end to potential expansion. The daughter of a Jordanian UN diplomat and the youngest of six children, she travelled the world as a child, attending 11 schools in cities ranging from Khartoum to Yemen to New Jersey and New York. “My father was with the UN for 45 years and took me on my ﬁrst ﬁeld trip to Sudan when I was ﬁve. I got the chance to see what real life was all about. I grew up wanting to impact communities and work in that sector, to encourage social development and effect change.” She married her high school sweetheart Suhail Al Nouri at 24 and the couple moved from Amman to the UAE, where she spent six years cutting her teeth as the head of corporate planning and development at philanthropic organisation Dubai Cares.
Five years into their marriage, the couple were ready to start a family. But after a long battle to conceive that resulted in IVF, followed by a difﬁcult pregnancy, Jumana was forced to reassess her career path once her daughter Ayla was born. “I reached a point where I hit a ceiling – I was a new mother, and had been on hormones and bed-rest throughout my pregnancy. Depression hit afterwards and it hit really hard. I had gained 21 kilos but lost 18 kilos in the ﬁrst week of giving birth, which was the ﬁrst sign I was entering a really dark place. I shut everyone out. Luckily none of my emotions were directed at Ayla. But I chose not to see a therapist or take medication. I’m very spiritual and I really kept my faith and tried to embrace it.” “Education is so important in my family, I like being around people who inspire me – so when I hit the dark patch, my ﬁrst instinct was to do something for myself. I needed to feel like a woman again and regain a sense of identity so I decided to go back to school. Luckily I had a lot of support and Dubai Cares gave me six months’ maternity leave, which is unheard of in the Middle East.” With the help of a French-Swiss maternity nurse who Jumana describes as her ‘guardian angel’, she would travel back and forth between France and Dubai to attend a six-month course at prestigious Business School INSEAD, taking Ayla with her to the Fontainebleau campus for week-long stints. The new challenge was enough to help set her on the road to recovery and she returned to her job at Dubai Cares.
Read the full article in the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia Junior
Stylist: Benn Robinson at MMG. Hair & Make-Up: Blowout & Go. Photographed on location at The Happy Studio.
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