Her dream has always been to inspire others to rise above their challenges and see the opportunities before them.
But this is not all. Schoolteacher Philomin Stone-Bassant's method of inspiration is her own life's challenges.
Stone-Bassant began teaching preschoolers by chance 28 years ago at her sister-in-law's pre-school in Port-of-Spain. Today she is the most talked about teacher at the Shri Krishna Kindergarten in San Fernando, where she has nurtured hundreds of minds for almost 10 years.
She also tutors Spanish-speaking students, in a bid to develop her conversations in Spanish and cares for three young grandchildren—all on her own.
But there is a story on how this woman plays the dual role of grandmother and mother.
"My daughter and son-in-law were sent to prison and have been awaiting trial for the past three years. I was left to take care of their three children—ages five, six and seven. They were babies and are now growing up without their parents, especially their mother. This is a very tragic situation in my life, but I can't afford to sit down and feel sorry for myself. I need to get up and empower myself. I have three young ones depending on me," she said.
Her powerful voice softened as she recalled her last visit with her daughter. "It was sad when I took the children to see her, I no longer saw the bond they once shared. They are closer to me now and this should not be. They need their mother," she said.
Stone-Bassant, 53, is separated from her husband and lives alone with her grandchildren in San Fernando.
"Their grandparents on their father's side died three months after this tragic incident, so I cannot look there for help. It is just God and me. He has sustained me through this tragic time. Every morning I thank God for another day and I leave everything in his hands. I feel satisfied because I think I am doing well by my grandchildren. I always put in the extra effort. My daughter was a loving child and she would want her children to grow up in the right path," she said.
Stone-Bassant said she has no social life. She arrives at school at 7.45 a.m. and leaves at 5 p.m. — tutoring children on evenings. "And on Saturdays I drop off the children at classes and then go to my class where I study Spanish. Then on Sundays I tutor the foreign students," she said.
She has taught students from Peru, Argentina, Bolivia and Colombia.
Stone-Bassant was stricken with an unusual back ailment almost two years ago, causing her excruciating pain. "But I had to come to school, I couldn't abandon my children, they depended on me, and the parents grew so accustomed to me sitting at my desk every day," she said.
She thanked Shri Krishna Kindergarten's management—Neela Maharaj and her parents—for their support and understanding during her trying times. "They have been like my family. They have supported me and are always asking me about my daughter. I feel good to know I have that support.
She said during her trials and when she was experiencing a great deal of pain she sometimes grew disenchanted and wanted to give up. "I told God it was in his hands now and if he felt it was time to take my life then I was prepared. But He had other plans for me and my grandchildren," she said.
Stone-Bassant questions why her daughter was subjected to imprisonment when she did nothing wrong. But she holds on to the hope that one day her daughter would be free to return to her children. "I take care of her children, just as she would want. The children ask for their parents, but I cannot get emotional. I have to be strong for them."
Stone-Bassant praised her sister, Kiara Diorio, for her support over the years. "She lives in the United States, but calls me often and is always there for me. She is my best friend," she said.
She advised that age should never be a barrier to success. "You should never say you can't do something. You can achieve anything with prayer and guidance from God, no matter your social background."
To those who want to become teachers, she said: "There is no course really to teaching young children, it comes from years of experience. Teaching is not just a job—it is not just about a salary. It takes a lot, you have to take a personal interest in the children's well-being. If a child comes to school and is sitting quietly you must be able to know that something is wrong with that child and reach out to that child, ensure that each child benefits. A teacher should never say she can't reach a child. You have to love your job, build a relationship with each child. The child needs to understand authority without you having to use corporal punishment," she stressed.
She ended simply by sayng, "My greatest treasure is being a teacher. It is rewarding to know that I have contributed to the development of someone's future," she said.