'To give up is a sin'
Multiple setbacks did not deter Claudia McPherson from her business dreams
A determined Claudia McPherson tends to her shop.

CLAUDIA McPherson's corner shop is up and running yet again, stubbornly defying break-ins and competing priorities which have set back the business numerous times.

It's due largely to her determination. Business is in her blood, she says, and she intends to make a success of it.

McPherson lives in Canaan Heights in Clarendon, a community on Jamaica's south coast, populated with far more good people than the tiny minority of troublemakers who give it a bad name.

Life in this community, known for gangs and violence, has not been easy. McPherson was born to a 16-year-old mother who had her own growing up to do. In her case, she says, it meant neglect from both mother and father.

MCPHERSON... I told myself to give up is a sin.

McPherson herself became pregnant in high school at age 16 and gave birth at age 17. "It's like a tradition continuing, living the life same as the parents," she admitted.

"My mother abandoned me and my father never really cared, so there and then I went searching for what, I don't know."

She did know that she wanted to go to school but had no one to help her. To achieve her goal, she got into a relationship and started having children.

When things did not work out with that relationship, McPherson did some travelling, entrusting the care of her children to their father and his girlfriend. To her horror, the children ended up "getting abused all over again". She felt utter despair. "I thought there was no love because I get the abuse then my children were left with their father for a better life only to hear they were getting abused..."

It was then that McPherson decided to better her life by re-enrolling at HEART, Jamaica's National Training Agency. She dropped out. Then she re-enrolled and this time she completed her studies. Her HEART instructors were suitably impressed and sent her for apprenticeship while she pursued maths and English through the City and Guilds programme.

McPherson's mother, seeing her child's progress, gave her "a start" to open her corner shop with a financial investment.

In Jamaica, corner shops are social gathering spots for games and chats, and a quick stop for assorted food and household items. The corner shop is a ubiquitous feature of community life and an important part of Jamaica's informal economy, some 33 per cent in size, representing $9 billion of gross domestic product (GDP) at purchasing power parity (PPP) levels in 2021. Wholesale/retail trade operators like McPherson make up 60 per cent of the informal economy.

Buoyed by the investment, McPherson made plans, but setback was on the horizon. "They broke into or robbed the shop again and I had to be paying rent and bills…I tried getting help everywhere but there was nothing available."

Yet again, she started to rebuild her business from scratch. During that rebuilding phase, she said a young lady from the Clarendon Municipal Corporation told her about the Women's Economic Empowerment Programme funded by the European Union-United Nations Jamaica's Spotlight Initiative. Implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Multi Country Office in Jamaica in partnership with municipal corporations in Clarendon and St Thomas, 80 survivors of gender-based violence like McPherson were trained.

"If I go to classes, how will I manage the shop?" she fretted.

"But I developed this philosophy: 'To give up is a sin'. I keep on repeating it every morning."

Then she heard the Spotlight-funded programme would distribute grants to participants. "That motivated me. I said even if I wanted to give up, I have to continue because I needed the grant."

"I pulled through until I finished, and I got the grant [which] was very exciting for me because I could buy supplies for the shop I couldn't afford before".

McPherson said the programme helped her to be self-motivated, independent and to understand people.

"I also learned how to understand myself and how to uplift myself," she declared.

But while attending classes, combined with her responsibilities as a parent, the shop's clientèle declined yet again. "But I told myself to give up is a sin."

Her strategy in her build back phase was to use income to buy just enough supplies that she could afford.

"The business is now on its way back. I'm still opening and I'm still giving thanks and I'm still living by my philosophy, to give up is a sin".

Better yet McPherson said, "I'm still hoping and trusting God and giving thanks."

The above story is one of three from the UNDP on domestic violence survivors who did business and life skills courses funded by Spotlight Initiative under a programme run by the municipal corporations of St Thomas and Clarendon. In stories told exclusively to All Woman, these ladies have come through much, successfully and triumphantly, and their stories could help others do the same.

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