Tivoli's jack of all trades is a woman
Soldier, teacher, dental hygienist, nurse Petricia-Kaye Soman motivates neighbours
In 2019, Petricia-Kaye Soman joined the Jamaica Defemce Force National Reserve.

Her neighbours live next door to a soldier, teacher, dental hygienist and licensed practical nurse.

Thirty-one-year-old Petricia-Kaye Soman is like a tree with many branches.

Whether Soman's neighbours in Tivoli Gardens, Kingston, want to know if a cavity has invaded their mouths, learn to do a breaststroke, or wish to remind their children that "ghetto yutes" can excel too, they need to step past her gate.

"The girl can do everything! She a all big swimmer; the girl is a jack of all trades," a man who lives across from Soman's house on Chang Avenue boasted last week.

Soman, a member of the Jamaica Defence Force National Reserve, told the Jamaica Observer that her commitment to balancing multiple professions stemmed from a desire to be an independent woman in the inner city.

"I'm a dental hygienist, a reservist, a licensed practical nurse and a part-time swimming instructor. Did I always have an interest in my careers? Nope, not one. I think it's very important for me as a woman from the inner city to be independent and not just be a stereotype. As a result, this gives a sense of purpose, sense of life satisfaction and learning to care for self financially, emotionally, mentally and physically, by helping to promote a sense of belonging," Soman said.

"Being competent in many endeavours surprises the people around you who thought you would never be good enough. Why? Because their children want to be like you."

Soman said there have been instances when people from the community tell her they want her to come to their house and clean their teeth.

"And I have done quite a lot in office and at community health fairs. Even while completing my competencies at dental school," she related.

But which profession does she love more?

"Being a swimming instructor is more dear to my heart, even though it's stressful. It is a rewarding experience and one which sticks with some people for the rest of their lives. Why? Race, colour, class and creed are all gone through the window when they are all in one space and having one thing in common learning how to swim," Soman explained.

She added, jokingly, that she had to develop a liking for school or face her mother, Marva Brown, who would tolerate nothing less.

"I was raised by a strict mother in an extended family in the inner city of Tivoli Gardens. It was always school, book work, sports," she recalled.

"As a child growing up, we were a very athletic family who represented Jamaica in football nationally and internationally with the likes of my sister Peta-Gaye Soman, and my first cousin, Luton Shelton Jr. On the other hand, I was very much interested in swimming and track and field. I represented the Y'Speedos for about eight years, being one of their best breaststrokers and backstrokers during my years," she continued.

Brown's pride was obvious as she showed the Sunday Observer many pictures of her daughter dressed in her JDF uniform.

"I'm a very proud mom. Being a mother and a single parent I'm so proud. She's been excelling since high school," Brown said.

"Being from Tivoli, we never stigmatised our community. I know others have done it, but this is what we have to do in order to uplift the community.

"One day they need to honour all the inner-city youths, both males and females, who succeed through these rough and hard times growing up," Brown told the Sunday Observer.

Soman's education began at Trafalgar Christian Preparatory. Afterwards, she attended St Hugh's High School where she tackled long-distance running, as she had already been introduced to swimming and had been training with elite swimmers. In 2010, she won the Hugo Chambers 10k Trophy, unattached in the under-21 category.

"I hated school so much, I did everything to stop going to school. I spray-painted my name on the wall where I used to have lunch in high school. I thought it was enough to cause me not to attend high school any more. I was so well-known, when the principal called my name on the intercom and noticed it was me, she told me to get paint and paint it out. I stopped performing academically because I wanted to stay home," Soman confessed.

But her mother showed her who was in charge.

"My mother gave me a beaten one day after seeing my grade nine report. That's when I decided I wanted to go to dental school and that's where it all started. Me settling down and doing some work. I then went to Excelsior High School for two years, then practical nursing school, having a total of nine CXC [Caribbean Examination Council] subjects including a level 2 City and Guilds in health care."

Soman then matriculated to the College of Oral Health Sciences at the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech) in 2014, where she pursued a Bachelor of Science in Dental Sciences and was successful. After graduating from UTech, she joined the JDF as a reserve.

"Seeing my mother as a single parent trying to always make ends meet inspired those career paths. Knowing how my father and a sister of his used to say I will never be anything of good standards, and that all I'm trying is a waste of time; those words pushed me to do better than their children and do better than them, to do and be whatever I wanted to be," Soman told the Sunday Observer.

But even with that drive to prove those people wrong, she often struggled with self-doubt. So much so that when she made the decision to join the JDF, she didn't think of it as a sure shot. Rather, it was a "test trial".

"I used to doubt myself so much, I never thought I would be able to achieve whatever it is that I try to accomplish. A few people I knew who were, and are still members of the JDF and are also in the dental field, they used to ask me if I would join the force after college because they are short on dentists, and say that they think I would be much of an asset there and I would still be able to practice," Soman related.

That self-doubt, she shared, tormented her during university.

"The issues that affected me were failures during college…I just felt like I wasn't going to make it to graduation. I saw all my friends graduating by 2016 and there I was, just failing. I just wanted to flunk because I was just tired of failing the same thing over and over. Then I remembered I am from the inner city, I have to pay back the Students' Loan Bureau and I wanted to get my degree like my friends. So I ended up overcoming them by not giving up," she said.

Soman was working with Chief Dental Officer Dr Irving McKenzie when she completed her studies at UTech, and was "planning and organising, then executing community health fairs islandwide consistently".

She noted that she didn't want to stop helping to "create brighter smiles in the civil world", and was told that joining the Jamaica National Reserve "would be the perfect selection".

"My plan going forward is to not lose myself in the moments, maintain good mental health, and make time for self, family and friends," she said. "My advice to youngsters who are living in the inner-city communities is, if not now, when? Do not limit yourself. Keep trying and trying again."

Petricia-Kaye Soman and her proud mother, Marva Brown seen in Tivoli Gardens on Saturday. (Photo: Joseph Wellington)
Petricia-Kaye Soman, who grduated from the University of Technology, Jamaica in 2019 with a Bachelor of Science in Dental Sciences, insists that ghetto youth can excel too. (Photo: Joseph Wellington)
SOMAN... being competent in many endeavours surprises the people around you who thought you would never be good enough (Photo: Joseph Wellington)
Romardo Lyons

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