The Shand sisters - Creating solutions through adversityMonday, April 12, 2021
THE community of Resource in southern Manchester is home to many hardworking, determined and, well, resourceful people. Among them are two women, Advira and Taneisha Shand — sisters who grew up in a single-parent farming household in the small agrarian settlement, and are now making a big impact on the world. The sisters are the masterminds behind Your Guide Through Unemployment and MATHS Simplified, two online-based resource platforms that are helping Jamaicans to overcome some of their most pressing challenges.
“We grew up together in a very close-knit family. We were born a year apart and we have two other siblings; a sister and a brother,” Taneisha, the younger of the two, shared with All Woman. “Our mom was a single parent and she was self-employed as a farmer and higgler. We went to Grove Town Primary School, and then moved on to Manchester High school.”
After high school, Advira went on to pursue an undergraduate degree in international relations at The University of the West Indies, Mona campus, while Taneisha received an opportunity to study biology at the University of Florida.
But after completing her degree, the elder sister was surprised to realise that a good education did not guarantee her a good job.
“When I left UWI I was unable to land a full-time job for a while,” she said. “So I know first-hand the difficulties persons who leave high school without access to jobs or good opportunities go through. Sometimes I look back and say that if this platform that we've created, Your Guide through Unemployment, had been around back then, then I wouldn't have been so depressed. I was sending out a bunch of application letters, writing to political representatives, everything, but I was getting nowhere.”
Not one to sit idly by and do nothing, the young woman did several internship and temporary placement programmes while she waited to land a full-time job. Eventually she found her footing at Mid-island Packaging and Processing Limited as an administrator.
“It was a really good opportunity. I spent over a year there before I migrated,” she shared. “They mainly dealt with the marketing of agricultural produce. Some of the things I did there actually allowed me to make use of my international relations degree. I also learned a whole lot of things that I wasn't privy to before, like accounting.”
Taneisha, on the other hand, had a less challenging time moving into a career after completing her first degree overseas. She has been an elementary school teacher since graduating, and is now looking forward to continuing her studies this year to fulfill her childhood dream of being a medical doctor.
The sisters founded Your Guide through Unemployment in 2018, then MATHS Simplified a year later, as they saw a glaring need for those two gaps to be bridged for young Jamaicans.
“Through MATHS Simplified we provide free, virtual mathematics tutoring sessions to students, and offer succinct and in-demand online mathematics tutorials to improve students' understanding of challenging topics and concepts and inspire a love for the discipline,” Taneisha said.
“I had never created a website in all of my life,” Advira, who is now a freelance writer, admitted. “But I went to WordPress and I figured out how it worked. We bought a domain and paid for the webhosting, and my sister and I created the entire platform by ourselves with the aid of YouTube videos. It has been an awesome ride since then. It's not easy when you're just starting out to get a host of followers, but we're still growing, and everyday we're inspired to do more because we know we're making an impact.”
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic allowed the resourceful duo to see just how much of an impact they were making, and provided them with an opportunity to raise the bar.
“We have definitely seen an increase in the demand for the resources we provide since the pandemic,” Advira said. “Everybody and her mother is trying to start a business now, due to COVID, or tapping into a skill they always had to make some money. People have lost their jobs and other streams of income and they are really trying, especially young women.”
In addition to providing information and an audience for ambitious Jamaicans, the pair also saw the need to help students to access their education now that it has moved online.
“In November we launched a GoFundMe campaign to help secure tablets for students in South Manchester where we're from,” the elder sister said proudly. “Most of the students there were without tablets, and all their classes had moved online. We secured the assistance of people living overseas who are mainly from the area. In three months, we were able to acquire 45 tablets for students from 13 schools in South Manchester.”
Taneisha, who returned to the community to make the presentations, was overcome by emotion as she experienced the love and gratitude from the village that helped to grow her.
“That was a big accomplishment for us, because we were able to give tablets to our alma mater, Grove Town Primary School. It was amazing knowing that we could actually give back,” she said. “We're coming from a low income family in an underserved community. We're coming from a place where people are very hard working and want the best for their children. Out of nothing, they give they all to their kids, hoping that someday they'll have a better life. We want to continue that tradition, and to leave a lasting legacy that somebody else can build on in years to come.”
Now living together in Florida with their mother and Advira's three-year-old daughter, the all-woman household hopes to continue working together for the development of their home country.
“It's easy to work together because we recognise each other's talents or skills. If I know that she is good with this then she focuses on that part. We grew up very close; we're best friends, so it's very easy to work together,” Taneisha said contently.
While each sister has her own individual aspirations, their collective ambition remains unchanged. Advira shared: “We want to reach as many youths as we possibly can, especially those who are in difficult situations and are trying to find their way who don't really know the potential that they have. We want to show them that they can be anything that they want to be, once they're committed to working hard and being dedicated to their causes.”
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