MAY PEN, Clarendon — Aaliyah Roach was crushed when her mother died of cancer. She was 11 years old, on the cusp of puberty, and without her mother to guide her the already challenging transition to adolescence was even tougher. The family also struggled financially as her father and brother were unemployed.
“We didn’t know how to exist, much more move on without her,” said Roach, now 18 years old.
Then an uncle told her about the Juthika Ramotar Foundation. It helped with her school fees “while my aunts chipped in to help with the girly things”, explained Roach.
The foundation also provided an unexpected source of emotional support. It was named in honour of an accident victim who died the same year Roach lost her mom. By chance, Roach met Ramotar’s mother, Prame Francis Massey, and their mutual grief created an unmistakable bond between them.
“It was a memorable moment when I met her. We shared our stories with each other and she made me feel comfortable being around her, having only met her once a few years ago,” said Roach.
According to Massey, she was immediately drawn to the young girl whose pain was familiar to her; it was the same ache she felt as she grieved the loss of her daughter.
Massey decided to help with Roach’s school expenses, just as she would have done for her daughter.
The Juthika Ramotar Foundation paid for the rest of Roach’s time at primary school, kept funding her education throughout high school, and now, as she attends the Institute on Career Choice (ICC), a private institution, they are still there for her. The foundation has committed to providing $80,000 per year for her studies. In addition, the ICC has awarded her a $120,000 scholarship for this year.
Roach decided, years ago, to make her education a priority because she wanted to make her mother proud. She has her sights set on being the director of a day-care centre and is thankful for the ICC scholarship.
“I have always loved children and so I chose to go into the field where I get to work with children and try to make a positive impact in their lives. I told myself I would make my mother proud because of the person she was. I know that if I didn’t stay focused she wouldn’t be proud of me. So I decided that wherever in the universe she is, I want her to always be proud of me,” she said.
Her mother, she said, “was a firm believer in doing good”.
Roach has credited guidance from her church community for her will to remain positive and focused on her goals.
“They encouraged me and helped to keep me motivated to stay on the right path. They put things into perspective. Persons who have gone through [struggles] have come and shared their experiences with us. Sometimes I say thank God I came to church because, [if I hadn’t], I wouldn’t hear [those stories]. I don’t want what happened to them to reach me. I have seen girls my age and younger with one or more children struggling to find food for them. They are being abused and they can’t keep them in school and that, too, motivated me to make a conscious decision about my life. I don’t want to ever end up in a situation such as that,” she said.
She made a point of expressing her gratitude for the foundation’s seven years of support.
“I want to tell the Juthika Ramotar Foundation thanks for everything they have done for me. Without them I would be struggling and probably worrying about money for schooling, but I have been given a grand opportunity and a chance to better myself. So I am making the most of it by focusing on my studies so I can make something great of my life,” she said.
“I am also taking this opportunity to encourage young girls out there who are faced with challenges similar to mine to keep their heads up and focus on their studies. There are all kinds of temptations out there, such as young men trying to get into a relationship, going to parties, peer pressure, drug and alcohol abuse, especially for young girls with little to no supervision. But they need to create a goal and work towards that and use it as their reason to stay firmly rooted and grounded in this life of many trials.”