TILBERT Stewart knows what it is like to grow up without a father. He grew up with eight siblings and a mother who never looked at another man after his father walked out.
Forced to handle the responsibility of taking care of his siblings, Stewart found life extremely difficult — so much so that he dropped out of school at age 11.
Badly bruised by that experience, Stewart vowed that if he ever became a father he would never abandon his children.
Now, with six grown children of his own, Stewart can take a bow as he gave it his all taking care of them by doing odd jobs, farming, and even doing two tours on the Overseas Farm Work Programme.
“I fight life and I pray to God and I ask Him to give me strength,” he said.
His daughter Tashel recalled how her father went the extra mile for her and her children. One day, while it was raining heavily, there was nothing in the house to eat. Her dad, she said, walked in the downpour to a nearby shop and bought food to cook.
“Him alone in the kitchen and him cook and bring in food for everyone,” she shared.
Stewart, who is now 57, became a father at the age of 17 and sired all six children with his wife.
“I always want to be there to make sure them okay. I choose not to sleep with another woman …it’s the only way you can grow them with principle. I struggle very hard, but I never give up, until the last one tell me she graduate,” he shared.
Recently, though, his living conditions came to the attention of Food For the Poor (FFP). Stewart’s house in Lime Hall, Rock River, Clarendon, was falling apart because he was not financially able to adequately sustain himself as well as carry out repairs on the house, which could be described as deplorable, dingy, and unkempt at best. A large section of the kitchen floor was exposed to dirt while other parts of the wooden floor were fragile. The walls were cracked, falling apart, torn and rotting. Added to that, there was no proper shower and toilet.
In previous years, when the island was under hurricane watch, Stewart was forced to seek refuge with a neighbour who lives on the main road across the Juan de Bolas River.
Today, though, Stewart can smile with relief as he is the recipient of a house from Food For the Poor, in partnership with BOOM Energy Drink, in time for Father’s Day.
The two-bedroom house , which is equipped with indoor sanitary facilities, a water harvesting system and solar panel, is one of 10 homes sponsored by BOOM for needy Jamaicans in 2022.
There are no words, Stewart said, that can describe the joy he now feels at knowing he has a proper roof over his head and his daughter and grandchildren don’t have to sleep out in the cold.
“I tell you the truth, I had the hopes for a house but I never saw it coming — that is one of the greatest things. Whosoever help me to get this house, may God continue to bless them,” he said, overwhelmed with gratitude.
“It is a big blessing, one of the greatest things I can think about. I talk from my heart,” he said.
Looking forward to celebrating another Father’s Day, Stewart said that his dream is for his children and grandchildren to enjoy the best the future has to offer before he closes his eyes.
“I wish to see them own their own businesses. And if they get any opportunity [through which they] can go to a different island, education wise, I would be proud. And I actually cannot explain my heart right now what I wish for my children and grandchildren,” he said.