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Inside a bustling Coronation Market in downtown Kingston, 36-year-old vendor, Nicola Reid, sits quietly catching up on her reading.
She has a routine.
At least three times weekly, just after making the day’s sale, she packs up her merchandise, heads to a nearby bathroom inside the market where she takes a shower, before going off to the Jamaica Foundation for Lifelong Learning (JFLL) on Slipe Road, where she is a student.
Reid who dropped out of high school at age 12 before learning to read and write, is now on a mission to gain mastery in reading, writing and arithmetic.
“Sometime mi go somewhere and want to sign up a paper and cannot sign it. At times mi have to beg people to do it for me and mi feel like a burden to them,” an emotional Reid said.
Tracing her story of how she ended up having to play catch up at age 36, the mother of four said growing up she never had the proper parental guidance.
“My mother had three of us and gave us away to relatives, and my father died when I was young.”
“I went to live with my grandmother, but she never had it that much [financial stability]. Because of that, I used to go school one or two times for the week. Some days I would sell in the market,” she said.
Things got worse at home and she eventually dropped out of school.
Not long after, she got pregnant and school was no longer on her mind.
The mother of four said, however, it was the need to assist her son in school that gave her the drive to return to the classroom more than two decades later.
“I remember one day my son come to me and say ‘mommy look on this paper’. Because my reading low, I send him to [another relative] and [the relative] run him away.”
“Me cry a lot because of that, and say one day God must help me so that me can help him.”
In 2014 she expressed her desire of going back to school to a friend who then introduced her to the JFLL.
She admitted that while she was excited about the prospect of going back to school, she was also embarrassed.
“When I went up there to do the test I was so shame. I went with tears in my eyes, because me a say at age 34, me shouldn’t a go back a school at this level. I was afraid people would laugh at mi.’’
“But after September morning when mi go there and present myself, mi seh to myself ‘no mi dash weh ‘shameness’. Mi say mi a step on shame and pride,” Reid stated.
The vendor admitted she still has a long way to go in her studies but is confident she will one day gain full mastery in the fundamental areas of learning.
“I still have challenges, but I am improving; things not where it used to be.”
“I get a whole heap of books, and I am reading them. When people hear me read these days them surprised to see how far mi come,” said Reid, adding that she makes it her habit to read the newspaper to a few of her colleagues inside the market.
As far as her long term goals are concerned, she revealed she is taking things one step at a time.
“Right now I am just focusing on getting the reading, writing and arithmetic right. After that then maybe someday I will take on the Maths and English [at the Caribbean Secondary Certificate level].”
She has become empowered to encourage others not to allow stigma to keep them from going back to school.
“Don’t be afraid, if you cannot help yourself. Get somebody who you can talk to, and can encourage you. Even if you a 60 or 100 years-old and want to go back to school do it. Nobody can make the decision for you,” she said.
The JFLL is an agency of the Ministry of Education, Youth & Information. The agency is charged with the execution of adult and youth learning and lifelong learning interventions from basic literacy to the secondary level.
Under its guiding principles of vision 2030, the Government of Jamaica, is moving to ensure that, through academics and other areas, Jamaicans like Nicola Reid are empowered to achieve their full potential.
Vision 2030 Jamaica is a strategic road map to guide the country to achieve its goals of sustainable development and prosperity by 2030.
-By Nedburn Thaffe (firstname.lastname@example.org)