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Down but never out

Young Jamaican determined to succeed

BY ANIKA RICHARDS Sunday Observer staff reporter richardsai@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, August 17, 2014    

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SHE dropped out of university after her first year. She had days when she had nothing to eat. She even toyed with the idea of not waking up. However, today, 28-year-old Tashana Rowe is determined to make her mother proud as she steadily climbs the corporate ladder.

An assistant branch manager at Citibank North America in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, Rowe has advanced after starting as a bank teller in 2011. She told the Jamaica Observer that it has not been easy. However, through it all, she credits her mother's hard work for her becoming the woman she is today.

Originally from Thornton in St Elizabeth, Rowe attended St Elizabeth Technical High School where she juggled netball, track & field and football, while completing her high school education. It was her affinity for sports that landed her a scholarship through the Jonathan Hibbert Foundation, to attend the University of Maine at Fort Kent. Her scholarship provided tuition waivers for some of her classes.

"I have four other siblings, two brothers and two sisters," Rowe told the Sunday Observer in a recent interview. "At no point was it easy for my mom to send us to high school, especially college. It was three of us in high school at once, and my bigger brother was attending Knox Community College.

"My mom was a higgler/farmer and still is up to this very moment," continued Rowe. "Growing up, I saw her hustle and battle in the Santa Cruz Arcade every weekend and then coming home with her last dollar to make sure we go to school for the week."

Rowe said that her mother would ensure that whatever she made from selling men's, women's and children's clothes was shared among her children.

"We took whatever she provided and made the best of it, because we individually knew what we wanted and had to do to get it, so the little didn't bother me that much. Attending University at Maine was the hardest time for my mom and myself because of the currency exchange rate," explained Rowe.

"We all know that sending money from Jamaica to the USA was nothing easy, especially for someone like my mom who had to do it all by herself," Rowe continued. "She had to do it every semester so I could have somewhere to live and something to eat. My housing and food cost per semester was like US $3,000.

"It was a lot, but somehow she managed to do her best, along with sending my other siblings through high school. She's been a go-getter since she was the age of 12, and until this day she refuses to stop or even come out of the Santa Cruz market. That's the only job she had. She eats, sleeps and breathes doing it," stated Rowe.

In 2008, disaster struck and Rowe's mother, Valrie Berry, was unable to come up with the US $3,000 Rowe needed after fire razed the Santa Cruz Arcade. She lost all her goods.

The Observer reported in 2008 that the fire destroyed stalls, shops and goods worth millions of dollars, affecting the livelihoods of more than 30 retailers which ranged from informal commercial importers selling clothes and shoes to bar and restaurant operators.

"(It) burn up everything for me, I lost everything," Berry, who is now in the USA visiting for the first time, told the Observer. "It set me back a lot.

"I tried to come up with everything I could but all the try I try it still wasn't enough, some way she had to drop out," said Berry who was only able to come up with US $2,000.

"Honestly, I borrowed and I always try to throw a little partner, and when it is not enough, I borrow and put on it. And I always try to get a good sale at Christmas, because is only Christmas time we get likkle sale, so I can pay back after Christmas," Berry said.

"Through tears I did what I could," added Berry. "I remember I stayed hungry just for them to go to school. Sometimes I couldn't buy lunch, back in those days because if I buy lunch I was jeopardising their lunch money for the next day," she went on.

When she was unable to come up with the funds after the fire, she was devastated, so too was Rowe. Her daughter had made several attempts to get assistance otherwise, but nothing worked in her favour.

"When she dropped out of school I cried, I had sleepless nights," Berry told the Sunday Observer. "I really cried because I know I tried and it just wasn't enough.

"I remember she called me and she was crying, she didn't have any choice and I had to cry," Berry recalled. "Look how hard I tried and it still didn't work, no one to turn to, no one to help, and I really tried."

Since she was unable to pay her fees, Rowe had to leave the campus and said she moved to Boston, to stay with a friend, doing any job she could get to stay afloat.

"I had to pack my stuff and was ready to go back home to my family where I belong. Here I was thinking 'oh Lord I have failed my family and everyone else who were looking up to me to come here and do my best'," Rowe said. "I told myself I had to find a way to stay in this country, I have to do this for my family, going back home wasn't an option anymore.

"But being the driver I am, I persevered, taking any opportunity I could to show off my skills," Rowe declared. "If anyone knows what it means to fight, it's me... I was now on my own trying to make ends meet and to take care of my family. I was here alone with no family members to even stay with, so it became harder and harder every day.

"But being the driver I am, I persevered, taking any opportunity I could to show off my skills," Rowe declared. "If anyone knows what it means to fight, it's me... I was now on my own trying to make ends meet and to take care of my family. I was here alone with no family members to even stay with, so it became harder and harder every day.

"I knew I had to go back to finish my degree, so I was taking any little thing I could get, no matter what it was," recalled Rowe. "I had to swallow my pride and do all the dirty work without caring what others had to say. I was too busy focusing on where I needed to be, so nothing really bothered me."

During that period, Rowe also got married; a few months later she applied for a few jobs, including with Citibank and as a flight attendant.

Rowe said her selection to join the Citibank team was "just God's work". She had also been contacted a few months after starting at Citibank to do an interview for the flight attendant position with US Airways. Rowe said she was also offered that position but decided to stay with Citibank.

Today, Berry is grateful that her daughter has prevailed.

"I really feel good about what she is doing now, despite all that she went through," said Berry.

Rowe returned to school in 2010, completing her studies in finance at Suffolk University. She finished last year and is now thinking of persuing further studies because she believes that lifelong learning is necessary.

"My ultimate goal is to provide a healthy and stable life for my family in Jamaica, especially my mom," Rowe offered. "Although I will never in a lifetime be able to pay her back for all she has done for us, I just want to make her happy and try my best to give her all I can.

"I want to continue to do more, so I can help others who are in the situation I was," Rowe continued. "Now I wake up with a smile on my face, smile of joy that I didn't have before, yet I always strive for more and I want to help to make that possible for someone else who is thinking it's not possible."

She is now focused on working towards becoming a bank auditor or regional operation manager.

"I see myself as a hungry competitor with intelligence, swagger, strength, and vision," explained Rowe. "It was a lot of pressure but at the same time I wanted to do what I had to do to get that promotion, but at the same time I did not want to rush into getting promoted either. I do not feel that promotions are due to the time spent in a role, but rather, whether you have deserved it.

"To me it's not advisable to rush into a managerial position simply because it adds another glamorous badge to your resume` or for the sole reason of more money," Rowe continued. "I wanted to feel challenged but at the same time I did not want to be put in a position in which I could not cope."

"Everyone was for themselves and it's a highly competitive industry, so I had to make my move up," said Rowe, who explained that she stayed late at work to help out, never called in sick even when she was, and also worked on her days off when others wouldn't. "It wasn't an easy road preparing myself, both physically and mentally, but by God's help I managed to pull through and was one of the chosen ones."

Rowe told this newspapr that her philosophy in life is to be kind, generous, helpful, and honest. Right now she plays netball for the Boston netball team and told the Observer that she volunteers at the Boston Children's Hospital, the Massachusetts General Hospital, and with the Boston Red Sox "run walk to home base" programme that is in aid of helping Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families heal from the wounds of war.

What has kept her going?

"I'm motivated by the word of God and prayer. They encourage my heart and keep me on the right track," said Rowe.

"Looking from where I was and growing up makes me appreciate every bit and I can only give God thanks. Every opportunity I get to excel or every success brought me back to where I was and I will never forget where I'm coming from," Rowe shared. "I think really big and wasn't afraid to dream. I break my goals down into small pieces, step by step and focus on what needs to be done to achieve them. I take full responsibility for my own action and is woman enough to stand on my own.

"We all have dreams but it's up to you to make those dreams a reality. It might not happen overnight but just take the leap, have faith in yourself and always trust in God because with him, all things are possible..." said Rowe.

Looking back, Rowe declared: "My happiness isn't about fame, the fortune, the money, or the number of things I possess, for those things will someday run out. I had a lot taken away from me, but I learnt that God will never take anything away from me without giving me something much better. My advice to people is to be bold, stand firm and always believe in yourself."

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