Veronica Blake - A musician on a personal mission
ABANDONED at birth by her parents, Veronica Blake's greatest wish is not for the sight she never had, but to know her mother's love. "When they saw that I was born blind, they left me in the hospital," she said of her biological mother and father.
Blake was temporarily taken in by two administrators of the Salvation Army School for the Blind for a month after her birth, until a female major in the organisation agreed to see to her further care and protection.
"She was asked if she could take in a blind baby and she said yes; that was at Hanbury Home for Children in Manchester. So I went there in October and grew up with the other children. I started school at the age of six at the Salvation Army School for the Blind," Blake said.
While Blake had her formal education in Kingston, she would go back home to Manchester on weekends. Although she was well cared for, she could not shake off the overwhelming desire she had for meeting her biological parents and this intensified after she graduated.
"I said to myself, 'there must be somebody that I can find in my family and it started taking a toll on me when I graduated from school at 18, because I did not know where I was going to go after leaving school," she said.
Blake explored several avenues to locate her parents, but it took a call to the Sunday Contact radio programme in 2006 for her to make any meaningful progress. In fact, the call completely changed her life for the better, because she was able to make contact with her biological father and four siblings.
"After hearing his name on the radio, he actually called me and said, 'Veronica, mi is your father you know'," she said.
Blake said she did not sleep the night after the call because she was too excited about the prospects of meeting her dad.
"He said that he has regretted that he has never looked after me, and when I showed him the photographs and thing, he cried, because he said he should have really done better," she said.
Blake eventually met with her three brothers, one sister, a nephew and her step-mom that same weekend for dinner, and was formally introduced to her dad a few days after. The two have had a great relationship since, but about two years ago, he had a stroke and has also been diagnosed with dementia.
Although she is now 53, Blake continues her search for her mom in hopes that she will one day make contact.
"I don't know if she is alive now, because I have not been able to locate her," she said. "After I was born she just disappeared. The letters that they posted would be returned."
Her father, she said, has spoken to her mother since she was born, but he too does not know where she is living now. He only knows that she had another daughter.
"She was frustrated because she didn't have a job, she didn't have a skill, and she didn't have any money to finance herself," said Blake of her mother who was in her early 20s when she gave birth to her.
"I would forgive her because God forgave all of us and everybody deserves a second chance," she said.
But until she gets the opportunity to meet her mom, Blake is continuing in her quest to better herself. She has received a certificate in the advanced level graded examination in music performance grade 8 from the Trinity College in London, a distinction in singing in the performance assessment test in voice from the Royal School of Music, and several awards for her community involvement.
Blake is currently the music and artistic director for the National Culture Group for the blind and has received several awards for her performance in the National Festival of Arts Competition which is organised by the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission. Apart from teaching music and giving voice training to community group choirs and individuals, she also gives motivational talks at schools, churches and other organisations.
The visually impaired musician has been employed as a telephone operator at the Planning Institute of Jamaica for the past 24 years and in 2001 was recognised for 12 years of long and dedicated service to the organisation.
"It has been very rewarding," she said of her job.
But Blake also wants to achieve more academically and has been accepted to pursue a two-year diploma programme in tourism management and travel industry services at Humber College in Canada. While the intent is to take up this offer, she has been challenged to come up with the tuition and has applied for several scholarships in hopes of receiving financial assistance.
"I really want to go, and I would be able to pursue my career and do music, because it's a work study programme," she said. "I am still holding on to my dreams. I still want to."
When asked whether her dreams include being able to see again, her response was, "I have got so used to being blind, it would be hard to get adjusted at this age. To start all over again, to learn how to read and write, to learn how to walk by myself not using a white cane... to be honest, I think I have got so used to this world not being able to see."