BY PETRE WILLIAMS-RAYNOR Career & Education editor email@example.com
NINE years ago, Sowhana Pommells watched her father die; he was hit by a bus in front of her. Now 17 years old, she is intent on becoming a doctor.
"I saw my father get hit down and I felt helpless. There was nothing I could do to help him. Now I think that if I study medicine, I would be able to help other people and that would be pleasing to me," she told Career & Education.
From all indications, the Immaculate Conception High School student is well on her way to achieving her goal. She scored 10 grade ones — nine of them with distinctions — in the recent Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations.
The subjects were human and social biology, biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, English language, English literature, Spanish, social studies, and information technology.
Sowhana treasures fond memories of her father, Raymond — a machinist and Seaview Gardens resident, who died at 34 years old.
"He used to call me princess and stuff like that. And whatever I wanted like KFC or jerk chicken, he would give me. He always gave me what I wanted," she said smiling. "I think he would have been proud. I feel like he is up in heaven looking down and smiling at me."
"Seeing that I am his only child, I most definitely want to carry on his name and show him what a wonderful job he did, even though it was for a short amount of time," Sowhana added.
Her mother Lisa Campbell has also been a wonderful source of inspiration for her. Campbell's own experiences and words of encouragement, in particular, Sowhana said, have fuelled her commitment to doing well.
"She has always been the type of person who has made a lot of sacrifices for my brother [Malik Collins] and me. She went to a good school; she passed for Excelsior... But she wasted her time. [Now] she tells us her experience and lets us know that she doesn't want us to end up like her, or to waste time like she did," the teen said.
Campbell — though forced to make do with her small salary as a sales clerk in an off-track betting shop — has also sought to ensure that Sowhana and her bother, aged eight, have all the tools they need to succeed.
"She is the type of person who ensures that we have all that we need for school. She also pays for extra lessons and so on," Sowhana said.
In addition to paying homage to her parents, Sowhana sees her success as defying the judgement to which she has been subject, courtesy of her inner-city upbringing, even as it puts her a step closer to escaping the hardship that has characterised her mother's life.
"The area where I live in, I use that as a catalyst to motivate myself. I don't want to stay here so I use that as a catalyst to do well," said the Matthew's Lane resident.
"There is stigma from both ends. Persons from outside of the community, once you tell them where you live, instantly they judge you. And then persons inside the community, they see you going to Immaculate or whatever, and because you don't necessarily want to do the same things that they do, like go to parties or talk about certain things, they call you 'stush' and say that 'yuh gwaan like yuh better than them' and just stuff like that," Sowhana added.
Still, she has chosen to stay her course in her bid to get into medicine.
"It is just knowing that you want to reach a certain goal for yourself and doing whatever it takes to reach that goal," said Sowhana, who was a part of the Immaculate Reading Society and the chess club. "I don't focus on what they say. I just keep in my mind that at the end of the day I want to be successful and just forget about the criticisms."
The former sub-prefect and deputy grade captain at Immaculate encourages other inner-city youths to do the same.
"I think they have to be focused and know exactly what they want for themselves. And knowing what you want, you should always try to achieve that goal, regardless of any difficulties you may have," noted Sowhana, who is secretary for the City Centre Police Youth Club, which she and some friends helped to form some two years ago.
Meanwhile, Sowhana is very pleased with her performance in CSEC and is planning to continue in that vein as she undertakes preparations for the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations (CAPE).
"Honestly, I am just thankful, because although I did put in some work into it, I was kinda worried because [Education Minister] Ronnie Thwaites had said that the children didn't do so good in English and math this year. But then I got my results and I was thankful," said the young girl, who readily admits that studying is not her favourite pastime.
Key to Sowhana's success well has been her uncanny ability to absorb, via the classroom, the information imparted by the teacher and through engagement with fellow students.
"I am a procrastinator. I hate studying," she said. "[But] I think the teachers at Immaculate reinforce the stuff and I am just the type of student who listens in class and when the test comes up, the material just comes back to memory."
Now it is on to the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations (CAPE), preparations for which Sowhana began with the start of school on Monday.
"I am feeling a little worried because she needs the books," her mother said. "School has started and she needs the books."
"It's definitely important [to get the textbooks] because at CAPE the teachers aren't going to spoon-feed you the content; you have to do the work," added Sowhana, who will sit biology, chemistry, physics, pure math, and communication studies in CAPE unit one this academic year.
"And then you have to start reading like two weeks or so before the actual test so you have a good chance of actually passing; it's not like you can cram like I normally do," she continued.
Still, she is committed to succeeding — whether or not she has the benefit of owning her textbooks. The plan, as she tackles CAPE, Sowhana said, is to work hard to secure for herself a scholarship to pursue medicine.
"I heard about a scholarship that the Cuban Embassy gives to persons who want to do medicine. Ultimately, that is where I want to be," Sowhana said.
Her mother is thrilled with the strides her daughter — whom she laughingly accuses of being lazy when it comes to housework — has made so far.
"I am so proud of her. She went to St George's Girls School on Duke Street and she was the only student to pass for Immaculate. She was head girl there after being prefect in grade five," Campbell recalled, her voice betraying her pleasure. "She has been on the Honour Roll at Immaculate for the last five years."
Now, the proud mum mused, her little girl has earned 10 ones.
"Even the morning she called me to tell me she had got 10 grade ones, I was like 'oh, I love you'. I thought I should have had the money to take her to the north coast for a weekend," Campbell said.
She added that she is in no way surprised by her daughter's performance in CSEC.
"Even before she could read, she liked books. Any book she passed, she wanted. From she was like about four [years old], she always say, 'Buy the book, mommy'," she said.
Fast-forward 13 years and her daughter is a dream, according to Campbell.
"To tell you the truth, she might be lazy and don't want to do any housework; any time you tell her to go and dust, she picks up a whole heap of books and tell you she has homework, but I don't have any problem with her. She is always inside... always inside in her book or watching TV," she said smiling, obviously giddy with the satisfaction and excitement a parent feels when a child excels.
"I heard on the news they talk about how most of the students who didn't do well were raised by single parents. But she (Sowhana) stay down in her one little place, in her one little world and do what she had to do," Campbell added.