After Aliea Pollock was admitted at Annotto Bay Hospital in St Mary for almost a month in 2018, the quality care she received from the health-care staff fuelled her passion to become a nurse.
Now, Pollock is on the cusp of starting her major in Nursing at the Faculty of Medical Sciences at The University of the West Indies where she will read for her Bachelor of Science degree.
She received the Suzette Henriques Memorial Scholarship worth US$5,000 among 14 wards of the State who were each awarded scholarships valued at US$3,500 through Children of Jamaica Outreach (COJO) at its annual scholarship luncheon programme, held on Monday at the AC Hotel in St Andrew.
Pollock said receiving that grant — which is the top scholarship named in honour of the charity's founder Gary Williams' late sister — is significant.
"I am so excited because this is a big deal for me, and it took me a lot to get here. I remember having days when high school was very rough, but I knew I was going to make it. Knowing that I did so well and was able to get this scholarship, I am so proud of myself and I am so thankful to God. I am bursting with a lot of emotions right now," she told the Jamaica Observer at the luncheon.
Pollock, who is the head girl at Jose Marti Technical High School and has been on the dean's list for two years, described the period she spent at hospital as "rough" but "inspiring".
"Just the love, affection and care that they showed, helped to instil a lot of hope in me and that's when I decided that was what I wanted to do. I want to be able to inspire just like they inspired and helped me in 2018," she said.
She said, while she understands that her tertiary journey will not be easy, she is willing to work hard and encourages other youngsters in a similar position to do the same.
"I have been doing well in high school and I want to keep that same pace. I just want to achieve more and do my best. I know it's not going to be easy but I am willing to put out whatever it will take to get there," she said.
"I want other youngsters to never give up. I have had times I felt as if I wanted to throw in the towel due to the things I have been through and how people would view me. I was fortunate enough to have the support to keep going. It's not the end of the world. I have my story and it makes me who I am, and your story will make you a better person. Put your trust in God," said Pollock, who has an interest in working at the the University Hospital of the West Indies.
Meanwhile, founder Williams expressed his thanks for the support given to COJO over the years, because the organisation prided itself in giving youth fruitful opportunities.
"We are extremely proud of what we have been able to accomplish with scores of scholars who have graduated from universities, now contributing in a meaningful way in various disciplines including medicine, health-care service, law, education and public and private sector. We count ourselves blessed to be able to contribute to the well-being of so many children and thank the many sponsors, guests, individuals who sent us donations," he said.
In her address, managing director and country manager at Citibank Jamaica Eva Lewis encouraged the awardees to use their challenges as strengths in their future endeavours.
"The challenges you've faced, struggles you've overcome, they actually shaped you into strong, resilient individuals who possess unique perspectives, and I humbly suggest that these have all helped you to remain focused and disciplined as you untap your potentials and build futures that reflect your own dreams and aspirations," she said.
She also advised them to "remember the power of self-belief".
"Recognise that you belong in the halls of knowledge that you are right now, and that you have earned your place through hard work and dedication. Believe in your own worth and potential, for it is that belief that will fuel your determination to success. No matter what doubts of negative voices may come your way, or discriminatory practices that may come your way, the power of self-belief literally conquers most things in life."
Meanwhile, acting chief executive officer of the Child Protection and Family Services Agency Michelle McIntosh Harvey encouraged awardees to maintain their outstanding academic efforts.
"We are extremely proud of you and your accomplishments, to date. You've been chosen as a result of your outstanding performance. You therefore have a responsibility to maintain these standards and even surpass them in fulfilling your obligations," she said.
COJO is a non-profit organisation in New York which is the brainchild of Jamaican-born Williams. Since its inception in 1994, COJO has dedicated human and financial resources to help make a difference in the lives of underserved children in Jamaica and the United States.