IT’S been a full-on battle for Novlette Webster to keep her son on the straight and narrow.
Rory Collins, the fifth of Webster’s six children, was diagnosed with a learning disability when he was nine years old. Instead of giving up or even slumping, her resolve strengthened — she was going to create the best opportunity for Rory to have a normal life.
He graduated from the Montego Bay Learning Centre and is on the brink of landing a job.
A member of the Special Olympics Jamaica (SOJ) football team, the 18-year-old is expected to represent his country at the Unified Cup in Detroit, Michigan, this summer.
But nearly 10 years ago, the future had appeared rather cloudy.
“He had a difficulty remembering numbers at the time and I talked to his school about it and they didn’t give me any good response about it,” said Webster, who resides in Lamb’s River in deep-rural eastern Westmoreland, near the parish border with St James.
“One particular summer holiday — he was about nine — he came home crying, saying he’s not going back to school because the teacher said he was going to become thief and gunman. So I asked why and he said it’s because he cannot read and write,” she told the Jamaica Observer.
“So I went to the school and spoke to the principal, and in return, she said that’s exactly where he is heading because he cannot read and write,” the anger apparent in her voice as she recalled the exchange.
Naturally offended by the remark and further incensed by the double-down judgement, she said she channeled her energy into finding the root of Rory’s challenge and a possible fix.
“I took him to the doctor and I got a referral to take him to the Cornwall Regional Hospital [in St James] at the paediatric clinic. The doctor there sent me to Mico Care Centre in St Ann to get him assessed, and then they placed him in the Montego Bay Learning Centre in Catherine Hall. The assessment showed he had intellectual disability — at his age what he was supposed to be doing he wasn’t doing,” she explained.
Webster noted that all this time she was virtually a lone soldier battling in the trenches; no cavalry to call on.
She lives on limited resources and doesn’t have a steady revenue stream. Her main income is derived from making bows that factories use to accessorise underwear, children’s shoes and Christmas trees. But she said that service is not in demand year-round.
And while members of her family do what they can to help Rory, support from the other side had been woefully lacking from the get-go. Rory’s father, who she said died violently in 2019, had long washed his hands.
Given her inherent determination, she said she just plodded on with the limited support she had.
True to form, the seeds bore fruit.
“He travelled by himself daily to Montego Bay and after starting in 2014 he graduated from the learning centre in September last year. You can see the difference. He’s more focused now and does his work because before he never used to settle down. And now he knows numbers and letters,” she said, the pride and sense of accomplishment almost tangible.
“He started to work in Montego Bay but the fare [for transportation] and the pay never matched up, so the HEART Trust said we must hold off until they can get something better closer to home. I expect us to hear back from them soon,” she said.
Her son’s love for football presents other challenges.
As a member of the SOJ progamme he trains with the football team almost every Saturday in Kingston, a tall ask to facilitate and fund the trek of over 100 miles.
“He picked up football at the Montego Bay Learning Centre, and he’s very excited about it. Every Saturday I have to find $4,000 to $5,000 for him to travel to Kingston,” she said.
But between them both — Rory exhibiting his mom’s resilient traits — those obstacles are constantly being hurdled.
“I know I have my children and I just have to put in the hard work. Sometimes he goes in the bush to dig turmeric [to sell] to make up his fare to go to Kingston. I have to make the sacrifice because sometimes he goes to Kingston and comes back and I have no money for the next day. I have the kids — three boys and three girls — so I have to push out,” she told the Observer.
“When I look around and see what’s happening in communities with youths idling around I say to myself, ‘I don’t want my kids in that position’,” she passionately explained.
“I have to put out the best to give them the tools because I’m not going to jail to look for them. People have said to me about the effort I put out because I see he has a disability and I didn’t just leave him by the wayside,” Webster said.
As she sustains the back-to-the-wall fight against the misconceptions which beset people with disabilities, she had a few last words: “I want him to make his family and his community proud. Some people say this or that, but I want him to prove them wrong.”