MORANT BAY, St Thomas — The pride and joy Sunanda Laws feels at being the first person from her family to graduate from university is that much sweeter because of the struggles she's had to overcome.
Two years after her mother's unexpected death, the teenager was raped at gunpoint. She was eventually able to fight her way out of depression and pick up the pieces of her life.
Things started to go wrong in 2012 when her mother, Samantha Williams, died from breast cancer. Laws's world shattered.
Though she had financial support from her father, older sister and other relatives, nothing could fill the emotional void left by her mother's death.
“She was always there to support me and she ensured that all her children's needs were met. It was very difficult especially because I was only 15,” Laws told the Jamaica Observer of her struggle to cope with her mother's passing.
In search of emotional support the then student at Seaforth High School was a frequent visitor to the guidance counsellor's office.
“I was mourning the death of my mom and it was difficult to focus at times,” said Laws.
She can still recall the support provided by counsellors Patrick Henderson, Angella Osbourne and Dollet Smith which helped to alleviate some of the emotional challenges she encountered. By 2016 her life was back on track. With her sights firmly set on her goals, Laws began pursuing a bachelor's degree at the University of Technology (UTech), Jamaica majoring in human resource management with a minor in finance. She worked hard despite her ongoing struggle with depression.
Then tragedy struck again in 2017. On her way home from an event at school, the teenager was raped by a gun-wielding attacker.
“Initially it was very rough for me, I was traumatised due to the fact that I was coming from a school event and then stumbled on such an unfortunate situation,” said Laws. “For many days I was scared and I started to question myself. I asked myself what I could have done differently and what I could have done better.”
She spiralled into depression once again. The episodes were worse when she was alone or about to go to sleep, she said.
“I never really had serious suicide thoughts but it was very difficult. Luckily, I had friends who I could talk to and who were always in my corner,” she said, urging anyone struggling with depression to reach out for help and find activities that will take their minds off their problems. For her, creating customised handmade canvases has proved to be a stress reliever as well as a way to earn a living. The 24-year-old recently started her own business, Custom Canvaz by Nanz.
She is very clear about what she wants out of life, the type of person she wants to be.
“From a tender age I… made up my mind to make my family proud and stand out from the crowd,” she said, each word heavy with her determination to succeed, despite the odds.
— Ashagaye Mullings