JUTC bus driver strives against the odds

JUTC bus driver strives against the odds

Sunday, September 01, 2019

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THREE years ago when Othniel Blair, a driver with Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) decided to join his daughter, Janiel, in her CSEC English and Mathematics evening classes, at the Tent City Seventh-day Adventist Church in Portmore, his sole intention was to prove a point to her.

“I wanted her to see that she could achieve anything she put her mind to,” he said.

Blair, who was then 43, explained that initially his plan was to take his daughter to the evening classes and wait for her. Subsequently, he decided that he might as well enrol in the classes. Each subject was held for two hours, weekly.

One year later, Blair received more than what he bargained for. The bus driver, who plies route 20 from Portmore to downtown Kingston between 4:30 am and 1:40 pm, Mondays to Fridays, achieved a grade one pass in English, with a straight 'A' profile and a grade three pass in Mathematics.

“I was elated, knowing that I didn't go to a traditional high school and I got them (English and Mathematics) in a short space of time.”

His English teacher Dionne Rose, a communications officer at The Jamaica National Group, who has been teaching the subject voluntarily for the past seven years, said Blair stood out the moment he joined her class.

“He was a model student, who was very serious about his schoolwork. He didn't waste time. He was prepared and always did his assignments. He kept me on my toes as a teacher. He questioned every grade when they were low; and I had to explain in detail why he got that grade,” she related.

However, it wasn't only his engaging persona that made Blair stand out to his teacher.

“Of the 15 students in the class, he was the only one who called to say thanks,” Rose revealed.

Encouraged by his success in the two CSEC subjects last year, Blair went on to do human & social biology and social studies at Gregory Park Baptist Learning Centre, gaining grade two passes in both subjects. In June of this year, he sat his fifth subject — principles of business — and received a grade one.

Bridgette Lindsay, coordinator of the education programme at the Tent City Seventh-day Adventist Church, pointed out that the free CSEC classes are among the outreach activities of the church.

“We started the classes in January 2012. We charge a registration fee per term. However, the classes are free. For the new school year, we will be offering mathematics, English Language and office administration, as we have volunteers who can teach those subjects,” she disclosed.

Blair is now focused on taking his education to another level.

“I want to go to university,” he declared, adding that his dream is to get a scholarship, to pursue a four-year degree programme in mechanical engineering at the University of Technology, Jamaica, as he would not be able to afford the tuition. He hopes to be included in the university's 2020 cohort.

“I love using my hands and I like to know how things work,” he stated.

He shared that his love for mechanics emerged while he was a ward of the State at the Alpha Boys' Home in Kingston.

“There were some books in the library called How it Works, and I used to love reading them. I love reading. Books took me to bed.”

At age 18, with the help of the Alpha Boys' Home, he obtained a job as a press operator at a printery, which further developed his love for mechanics.

Blair, who grew up between two households in Whitfield Town and Frog City in Kingston, pointed out that he had a difficult childhood, which resulted in him becoming a ward of the State. A scar on his face and on one of his hands, each tell a heart-wrenching story of its own.

“The simplest likkle ting is a [beating with] board mi get,” he said pensively.

He related how his hand was placed in flames after he broke the tail off a fried fish and that there were many instances when a lit cigarette was pressed into his face. At age seven, he was tied to a post in an ants' nest, which was agitated at his feet.

“I grow up [feeling] bitter. People did expect me fi be a criminal 'cause mi grow with (was exposed to) so such violence,” he revealed.

His bitterness towards life was further compounded when he no longer received visits from his family, while he resided at the Alpha Boys' Home.

“I have moved on. I look at life differently now,” said the ordained deacon at the Braeton Seventh-day Adventist Church. “Alpha [Boys' Home] helped to mould me to become a person of good character.

“I made a promise to myself that my children would not go through what I went through; and that all my children would have the same mother.”

True to his word, Blair and his wife of 16 years, Jacqueline, has three children, whose ages range from eight to 20.

Since I [got] baptised, I learned to forgive. The church played a very important role in moulding me to learn to forgive,” he maintained.

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