In the midst of current high voltage public issues, the academic achievement of teenager Shamika Henry deserves our pause to acknowledge and salute. The 18-year-old pupil of Holy Faith Convent, Couva, turned in an outstanding performance in this year’s Caribbean Secondary Entrance Certificate (CSEC) Examinations to emerge with distinctions in English Language and Literature, a Grade 1 in Mathematics and Grade Two passes in Spanish, Music, Principles of Business and Theatre Arts.
What makes Shamika’s achievement outright inspiring is her triumph over the handicap of having lost her vision to the ravages of glaucoma. Hers is a story of someone who was dealt a raw hand by life, who hit one hurdle after another, but never surrendered to despair. Lucky for her, she had an incredibly supportive family, committed family friends and teachers who were prepared to go the extra mile to ensure that their student’s potential was realised.
There is a lot to learn from Shamika’s story. Mostly, it is about the power of perseverance, dedication and hard work. But it is also about faith in one’s self. After eye surgery at birth, Shamika lost her sight at age 13, a time when teens are beginning to explore the world around them. That wasn’t to be her story. After a promising start during her first term at Holy Faith, she lost her sight and had to be uprooted and relocated, for two years, to the School for the Blind in Santa Cruz.
Returning to Holy Faith, she struggled to keep up, turning in grades that were way below the potential she knew she had. But she didn’t give up, and neither did her family, friends and teachers. We salute them all. Together, they are the everyday heroes who transform the life-chances of young people battling problems of all kinds. Not all of them find their way out of the abyss of failure. Many give up, never to try again because no one cares enough to keep holding their hand through difficult times.
While a support network is important, it is not enough. The person being helped must have the will to succeed and the willpower to stay the course. Shamika Henry clearly did. Her experience of moving from a mark of one per cent out of 100, to a Grade One in mathematics, with the support of her teachers and a software program, describes the distance that this young woman travelled, mentally and psychologically, in leaping across the hurdles in her path.
Her story also vindicates the call for more support for the disabled among us. The potential of far too many citizens is being discounted because of either physical or mental handicaps. The plight of deaf children within the secondary school system, who struggle for quality communication resources, is a case in point. Shamika Henry is an example of what is possible when we stand by our young people and give them the confidence to have faith in themselves.