Kelly Brown’s faith in God kept her going when things got rough
Brown… I really want to use my testimony to go into the schools and inspire other children
AT 23 YEARS-old, Kelly Brown has experienced what would be considered a lifetime of obstacles for most. However, one would never know this because of her positive persona and encouraging spirit. This August Town native recently completed her Bachelor of Arts degree in Linguistics and English Education with the aid of The UWI Township Scholarship.
Brown was diagnosed with neuromyelitis optica (NMO) while she was in her first year at The UWI. This is a relapsing-remitting, autoimmune disorder that causes damage to the optic nerves (leading to pain and vision loss) and the spinal cord (leading to paralysis or weakness in the limbs). She recalls the first time she experienced symptoms, “It was approaching the summer of grade 10, about May. I went to school, stood in devotion and saw flashes of light and then I felt this intense vibration through my body. As the days and weeks progressed, my vision got blurrier and blurrier; then I woke up one morning over that summer, not seeing anything out of both eyes,” she said.
“For the first three years, there was no diagnosis
– every scan came back normal. The doctors had no idea what it was.” Her sight started to return as the summer came to an end, and by October, she was able to enter grade 11 with the ability to see shadows and then some black and white.
However, with the new school year came new challenges, “I was ridiculed by peers, I was unable to [see to] read, even when I sat in the front of the class and the teachers had little faith in me,” Brown shared. This led to her repeating grade 11 as she was only able to sit two CSEC subjects – Religious Education and Social Studies, both of which she was able to pass.
When asked how she remained strong in the face of her challenges, Brown said: “I am a strong believer in the Lord. My perception is that [going blind] is really just a test of faith and so I was optimistic from the get-go because I know God was fighting on my behalf.
“I would sit in class and I could tell you, almost word for word, what the teacher had said, and when I heard people reading, I just grasped the information quickly. I thank God for that,” she added.
Her second attempt at grade 11 saw her sight improving and she could now better navigate school life on her own, “I could see to read my notes and I got hold of a tape recorder and I recorded my notes and replayed it [to study]”. She sat and passed six additional CSEC subjects. She transitioned to sixth form at Mona High School, where she passed three CAPE subjects and then progressed to Excelsior High School where she sat and passed an additional five units. While at Excelsior High, another symptom of her NMO would surface. This new symptom brought on paralysis. “I felt an intense vibration, similar to the one I had felt when the sight first started to go. I could not move and I would fall if I attempted to move,” Brown recalled. She expressed gratitude for her pastors who helped her by taking her to school each day. She completed her high school journey with eight units of CAPE, along with her eight CSEC subjects.
Now ready to matriculate to The University of the West Indies, Brown sought to find ways of funding her college education. She said her primary school teacher and Mr David Henry, a staff member at the Source Community Centre, told her about The UWI Township Challenge Scholarship and she submitted an application. Having been successful, Brown started her tertiary level education. She was, however, once again faced with challenges as symptoms of her NMO resurfaced and she was hospitalised for nearly two weeks shortly after starting her first semester. “I was unable to maintain the GPA, so after my fees were paid for the first semester, year one, I lost the scholarship. My mother had to pay my fees by instalments. My GPA increased the following year; however, I still did not get to the GPA that was required,” she recalled. However, after she shared her story with her pastor, Hellen-Ann Brown, senior pastor of the Kairos African Gardens Church, who lobbied on Brown’s behalf, she was able to get much needed help. Brown received a partial scholarship for the duration of her studies.
Although she no longer had a full tuition scholarship, Brown saw the assistance as a sign of answered prayers. “It meant a lot for us. It really saved my mommy a lot of money, and it really gave me a key to unlock an opportunity.” Brown was able to successfully complete her degree with the help of her church youth group and volunteers at the Office of Special Student Services at The UWI, Mona Campus. She also expressed gratitude to The UWI Township Challenge Scholarship donors who she said had also provided her with the support to successfully navigate her university life through their stress management classes and monthly support group sessions, which she hopes they will continue.
Of her future career goals, Brown said: “I hope to reach a great level in mastering the English Language and helping persons in the disabled community to understand the English grammar so as to help them to further themselves and to reach a level that they can advance [using it].”
She would also like to open her own school in the future. “I enjoy doing tutoring programmes and one-on-one [sessions], and I really want to use my testimony to go into the schools and inspire other children.”
Brown ended with some words of advice and encouragement that she hopes will inspire people who believe they are in situations which place them at a disadvantage. “Trust God. With Christ in the vessel we can smile at any storm and nothing is really over until you stop trying,” she began.
“Challenges are real and they will come, but how you respond to them will determine the outcome that you get. I really would also encourage other youth in my situation – don’t put any limitations on yourselves, no matter what you go through, always remember that there’s somebody out there going through worse than you are. Whatever you go through God is giving you an opportunity to get a testimony and become victorious.”
Racquel Francis’ ‘go-getter-attitude’ allowed her to pursue her dream
RACQUEL FRANCIS BELIEVES that a proactive and positive mindset will allow one to achieve things others thought impossible.
“Be dedicated, if you say you’re going to do something, stick to it. Be positive, be proactive.” The 23-year-old UWI Township Scholarship recipient did just that during her time at The UWI. This year she was rewarded with an Upper Second Class Honours degree in Psychology, with a minor in Criminology.
Because Francis was only the second person in her family to attain this level of education, she was determined to accomplish her goals and never allowed her lack of finances to be a deterrent. Having learned of The UWI Township Scholarship from her cousin while still in high school, she worked to become qualified and ended her high school tenure with an Award of Excellence. When she was finally ready to make the bold step to The UWI, applying for The UWI Township Scholarship was her first and only option. “Financially, my family doesn’t have it so the scholarship provided financial aid in order for me to go to school. I had an older sister who was going to college as well, and three younger siblings going to school so the scholarship meant a lot to me,” she explained.
A St Andrew High School for Girls alum, Francis was involved in her sixth form association, the student council (where she was treasurer), as well as badminton and volleyball. She also volunteered in outreach activities at her church. On entering The UWI, she was an active First Year Experience (FYE) member, and volunteered in various activities with other UWI Township Scholars.
Now that she has completed her undergraduate degree, she hopes to gain some experience in her field over the next few months. And come next academic year, she plans to begin her pursuit of a Master’s degree in Special Education.
She told UWIMONA Now that she is looking forward to becoming an agent of change as a Special Education Teacher.
Victor Brown has a passion for justice
TWENTY-TWO-YEAR-OLD Victor Brown was home-schooled for most of his life. Having spent a mere three years in the public school system, his mother was concerned about his behavioural change and pulled him from high school at the end of his third year. This move did not deter him from becoming a well-rounded, successful individual, who effectively managed his time to meet his life goals.
He participated in International Mooting Competitions while a student in the Faculty of Law at The UWI, Mona. He is also a Youth Pressure Group Leader and volunteer English teacher in his community.
Brown shared how he found the right balance between co-curricular activities, academics and life in general. He said the first step was to create what he described as a “life scheduler”. This schedule should indicate class time allotments, domestic duty allotments and co-curricular activity time allotments. He also emphasised that the free spaces on the schedule should be used efficiently to balance recreation and revision of course materials and classwork. He also encouraged students to begin revising content from the very first day of class.
Brown received The UWI Township Challenge Scholarship for his second and third years at The UWI, where he recently completed his Bachelor of Laws degree. Now a history and law teacher at the Convent of Mercy Academy (Alpha) and a student of the Norman Manley Law School, Brown is well on his way to fulfilling his dream of lecturing and practising law, “I love law; I have a passion for justice and I enjoy the process of preparation for and executing courtroom advocacy,” he said.
Brown, a baptised member of the Kairos Network of Churches, measures success by the “completion of fulfilment of one’s purpose” and not by the number of material things one has or one’s profession. “I am a firm believer that everyone has a specific purpose and goal to accomplish in life, and so one’s level of success should be measured by how much of one’s specific purpose has been accomplished,” he told UWIMONA Now.
“I believe that how well you fulfil and accomplish your purpose is the sum total and measure of your success,” he added. By his definition, it is safe to say that Brown has realized great success and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future.
No obstacle too great for Joel Nomdarkham
Nomdarkham… I’m also making it a point of duty to give back as well
NOTHING HAS EVER come easy for 22-year-old Joel Nomdarkham.
Nomdarkham, a three-year recipient of The UWI Township Challenge Scholarship, as well as the holder of a First Class Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from The UWI, has had to spin numerous disappointments and apparent failures into remarkable success.
His earliest recollection of one such incident occurred while he was still in high school at Kingston College (KC). While attending an international convention as president of his school’s Key Club, he ran for the position of trustee. Having won, he would now be the only black person on the board and the first person in 20 years from KC to hold such a post. This was not to be, however; on account of visa issues, he was deemed unable to serve.
“It was probably the greatest disappointment I faced in high school because it really left me down. Four thousand students had elected me to serve as a trustee and to have it taken away like that did kind of mash me up,” he recalled. “But on the flip side, if I had got it, I would have had to give up being head boy because of the responsibilities; and a majority of the opportunities that came after high school were as a result of me being head boy at KC, so every disappointment worked out,” he added.
One of those opportunities was the chance to apply for The UWI Township Challenge Scholarship. Being head boy meant that he was poised as a front-runner for this as he had been groomed to be a well-rounded leader and had an exemplary academic record. The other requirements were that one should be a resident of the Greater August Town or Mona Commons community for at least 10 years, be accepted to The UWI and be between the ages of 16 and 30.
Having fulfilled and exceeded the requirements, Nomdarkham started his UWI journey in 2013, as a proud recipient of The UWI Township Challenge Scholarship. Having also received a maintenance award from the RuJohn Foundation, he was able to settle into his first year with little financial issues.
He would again face challenges when his maintenance scholarship was not renewed at the end of his first year, “My second year was really rough because I didn’t have the funds to come to school. Gladly, I had the [UWI Township Challenge] Scholarship to pay for my school fees because once that is out of the way you’re good. My mother was unemployed and my sister, who would often help, started her Master’s degree, so it was really, really rough,” he recalled.
These challenges did not deter him, however, as when he was given the opportunity to do an internship for two months at the Jamaica Yellow Pages, his excellent work ethic and hard work prompted them to extend this for several more months. “I got the chance to start making my little money and send myself to school,” he said. He further revealed that his relationship with Jamaica YP was developed as far back as high school when he won their “Get Discovered” Facebook competition and became the face of the company for several advertising campaigns. He also became a brand ambassador for two years, up until the time of his internship.
For his final year, Nomdarkham expanded his outreach and voluntary activities to incorporate members of the Carimac Students Society (CSS), a club over which he was now presiding as president. “I got the opportunity to provide jobs for other people. I linked the Jamaica Yellow Pages to CSS as a club sponsor which gave us almost half a million dollars in sponsorship, the first sponsorship of that magnitude for CSS,” he revealed. He went on, “What I also got to do as an intern as well, was managing the brand ambassadors for the company. What I did was to select students from CSS to be brand ambassadors for the company and that’s still happening right now. So even though I’m gaining, I’m also making it a point of duty to give back as well.”
Today, Nomdarkham is employed as an Independent Communications Consultant at the Jamaica YP, where he handles minor PR, social media communications and events coordination and execution. He is also a judge for the Governor General’s Summer of Service Programme, an opportunity which he gained through being a Governor General Youth Awardee in 2014. In his spare time he volunteers for the RuJohn Foundation and is a motivational speaker for primary and high school children across the island.
He credits The UWI Township Scholarship for motivating him to do well in school, and said that it is a trait that has translated into his life. “I just want to thank The University for having these programmes in place. There are a lot of bright minds out there and when we get these opportunities to excel it is not only a blessing but it is a motivation to unearth whatever potential we have. There are a lot of other students out there who are just like myself and they don’t have that opportunity and I want to thank the UWI for stepping up and providing that opportunity where we are able to fulfil another step in life.”
He further went on to say that his voluntary activities throughout his UWI life has prompted him to prepare a proposal which will see him launching an independent project to educate young people on the use of social media. His other plans include pursuing a Master’s degree in Public Relations or Marketing in 2017 and becoming a prominent media practitioner.
Nomdarkham was one of four UWI Township Challenge scholars who graduated last month.
He left words of advice for new UWI Pelicans: “Ensure that you don’t regret coming to The University of the West Indies and having a wonderful experience. There are so many ways in which you can do that, and getting involved is one. I remember volunteering with UWI Marketing and I got a chance to go to a lot of high schools to tell them about The UWI and that was a fulfilling experience. It is important that every student gets involved, while pursuing your degree. Get involved and seek opportunities.”