- Through the Citizen Security and Justice Programme (CSJP), 24-year old Shauntai Burke has received invaluable support at times when she has faced great hurdles in her life, including becoming a teen mother.
- At age eight, she lost her father and was later sent to live with her grandmother when her mother migrated to another country.
- Today, the 24-year-old is pleased with the progress she has made and encourages persons who may be going through a difficult time to never give up on their dreams.
The Citizen Security and Justice Programme (CSJP) has been a beacon of hope for 24-year-old Shauntai Burke.
Through the programme, she has received invaluable support at times when she has faced great hurdles in her life, including becoming a teen mother.
At age eight, she lost her father and was later sent to live with her grandmother when her mother migrated to another country.
“My mother left me in the care of my grandmother and other relatives. It was very stressful, emotionally, not having my mother around, especially seeing how happy my cousins were with their parents around,” she recalls.
Despite this and other challenges at home, she excelled at school and was placed at St. Hugh’s High School after earning good marks in her Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT).
As a teenager, Miss Burke was deeply involved in her community and the development of young people. She volunteered for the Youth Opportunities Unlimited (YOU) summer programmes, and was an active member of the ‘Sistren Theatre’ group and the Police Youth Club.
It was through her involvement in the Police Youth Club that she received a scholarship to assist with her secondary education.
In high school, Miss Burke’s main goal was to get good grades to realise her dream of becoming a lawyer, bank manager or chartered accountant.
As the time drew closer for her to sit the Caribbean Secondary Education Council (CSEC) tests, a dark cloud of financial difficulties dominated her life. Nevertheless, she managed to save funds from her summer job at the then Ministry of Water and Housing to pay for her subjects.
Having cleared that hurdle, she was faced with the greatest challenge of her young life, when she became pregnant in her final year of high school.
“I experienced a lot of criticism and was scorned. That did not stop me; I told myself that despite the ridicule, I still have life and I will make it in life,” she says.
Shauntai later moved from her home community in Fletcher’s Land to reside in Allman Town with her mother, who had returned to the island.
“With this transition, I had my first daughter and decided that I would go on to further my education. I went and got enrolled at Excelsior Community College (EXED), not knowing how I was going to attend school or how my school tuition would be covered,” she explains.
“I was still struggling financially and experienced other hardships, but I had a goal that I needed to achieve and so after being deregistered at EXED I cried, prayed and asked God to send help,” she recalls.
While heading home one evening, she stopped at her grandmother’s house and was sharing her experience with her aunt, who advised her to seek help from the Citizen Security and Justice Programme (CSJP).
“I was so happy to hear of the CSJP opportunity that I went there the next morning. When I got there, I heard that that day was the deadline to submit applications for tuition sponsorship. I was distressed, but I took the form, got all the necessary documents to accompany the application and made the 5:00 pm deadline,” she says.
A few weeks later, she learnt that her application was successful.
“I was so elated and thankful. It was at that time I decided that no matter what the situation, I will never give up on my dream. Once I have life there is always hope,” she says.
Although her tuition was covered by CSJP, there were still days that she had no lunch money or bus fare, but that did not stop her from going to school and she would often walk from Allman Town to EXED. She excelled in school and was named Student of the Year for 2009/10.
In 2013, Miss Burke became a proud graduate of EXED and was recognised for outstanding academic performance.
The teen mother then moved on to the University of Technology (UTech) where she pursued a Bachelor of Business Administration with a double major in Accounting and Finance.
Again she faced difficulties in meeting tuition and transportation costs, which was compounded when she became pregnant with her second child during her final year at university.
Miss Burke tells JIS News that each time she wanted to give up, she pushed on and continued to attend classes.
Again, the CSJP came to the rescue and through the internship programme, she was placed at the Ministry of Justice where her performance earned her an extended internship.
Miss Burke remained there until she completed her studies and was fully employed at the Ministry as an Internal Auditor.
Today, the 24-year-old is pleased with the progress she has made and encourages persons who may be going through a difficult time to never give up on their dreams.
“To persons living in the inner city, ghetto is a state of mind. You can be from the inner city but still be the best. Everyone has challenges, and when you think you have the worst situation there is someone out there who is worse off than you. Do not pity yourself, which is one thing that I never did. Whatever you go through in life will make you stronger,” shares Burke.
The CSJP is a violence-prevention initiative of the Ministry of National Security that seeks to build community safety and security through crime-reduction programmes and social intervention. The programme is operational in 50 communities across the island.
It is funded through support from the Inter-American Development Bank, United Kingdom Department for International Development, and Global Affairs Canada.