Camelia Carter — Changing lives

By KIMBERLEY HIBBERT

Monday, July 30, 2018

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HER escape from her household's exposure to drugs and guns came through reading, babysitting her niece and nephews, and daydreaming, but those could not fully allay Camelia Carter's worries and fears. Molested as a young girl, raped at gunpoint, and being a teen mother, Carter said her youth saw her being depressed and contemplating suicide, mainly because of what she was exposed to.

But today Carter has transformed her life experiences into empowering teen mothers, and this Linstead, St Catherine native says she's testament that one can rise above one's circumstances.

“We had a big family — my mom had eight of us and I had lots of fun as a child,” Carter, 34, told All Woman.

“But I also had painful experiences. Leaving all-age school and heading to high school, a lot of drama started. There were two households — in one there was drugs, in the other there was guns. Most might not have known I was exposed to these things. For me I was too exposed to too many things at the same time.”

She said three things shaped her life when she was younger.

“I was molested and that made me shy, but that changed as I was exposed to the debating team by my literature teacher. The little shy girl I knew myself as just blossomed. That started an advocacy journey in my life.

“The second thing was being a teen mom. I got pregnant at 17. I finished high school and was thinking about what I was going to do with my life, only to find out I was going to be a mother. This shifted my focus as I now had to prepare for motherhood as I had a little human depending on me.”

But the third experience, according to Carter, shifted her world.

“I was raped at gunpoint. It was the most traumatic experience, and apart from my daughter, the one that changed me the most. I barely escaped with my life. My daughter was six. In those moments I really wanted to die,” she said.

But the dark clouds never lingered.

“I knew there was something bigger for me. I had started at the HEART Trust in June, my brother died the July, and this happened the December. Here I was trying to turn my life around and that happened. But I graduated top of the class and became valedictorian and though the rape bothered me, I decided it was not going to take my life. It took a lot of guts, but I had to go on. There was something bigger than what I was experiencing,” she said.

After leaving HEART, Carter landed a job in accounting at MegaMart where she remained for six years before moving into real estate at Golden Gates Realty. But Carter was still not satisfied with her contribution to society.

Subsequently, in 2016, the realtor decided to start the Mommy and Me Foundation, a social intervention support group for teen mothers.

“I wanted to change the purview for teen mothers. I went through a lot. Once my friends found out I was pregnant I had no more friends. My family was extremely disappointed and I wondered how others made it through and whether it was just as bad for them as it was for me. Every time I met a teen mom at clinic I would question her. At church with parenting seminars I spoke to other teen moms and I wanted to start but I still didn't have the foundation as I was trying to make a name for myself first. But after a friend spoke to me I decided to get it off the ground,” she said.

The foundation gives financial assistance through care packages to mothers in need. The young mothers are given parenting tips, mentorship, exposed to empowerment sessions, baby showers and career advice/planning, with placements in educational programmes where possible.

“Our aim is to empower young mothers with the skills necessary to enhance and elevate themselves above society's norms and help create a channel for them to succeed at good parenting while empowering them to grow and improve themselves. Our goals include eliminating stigma associated with teen pregnancy, providing a social support group for these young mothers, and teaching good parenting skills,” she said, adding that the foundation does vision boarding, and an annual youth empowerment session that coincides with International Women's Day.

Also a Youth Innovation Centre volunteer, Carter has partnered with HEART to bring skills training to young mothers.

“I am about developing youth in rural areas and remain committed to that cause,“ she said.

Carter's philosophy is, 'In youth we learn, in old age we understand', and she encourages young people to keep going, no matter their circumstances.

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