Overcoming odds, Tivoli teenager heads to university
Nineteen-year old Natasha Thompson is taking the next step towards achieving her dreams as she gets ready to attend the University of the West Indies, Mona, this September.
Thompson, who wants to pursue a career in Economics and international relations, is far removed from the reality of her daily life in Tivoli Gardens in west Kingston, Jamaica.
She is one of a number, youth coming out of the West Kingston Incursion to have benefited from assistance from Scotiabank through their Shining Star Scholarship programme.
As a twelve-year-old then, she remembers the horrors of the May 2010 almost month-long gun battle that raged in her community. Thompson says that she was terrified of going to and from school or even venturing out of her community due to fear of being caught in the middle of crossfire.
There was trauma seeing the brutality so close to her, which can be described as nothing short of horror - dead bodies, burning buildings, the constant barrage of gunfire, and roadblocks all around.
She says her childhood changed forever.
"There were some things that would have been normal that I just didn't do anymore. I couldn't," Thompson says. "I couldn't go to late classes - that was totally out. I loved sports - badminton, hockey, basketball - but I had to pull back from that, too, because I couldn't participate in training in the evenings.
"It was an awakening. It opened up my eyes to how violent this world can be. So many persons died for no reason. Everything felt like this was a dark time."
Thompson said the guidance and counselling offered by Scotiabank helped her overcome the trauma.
"I was able to pull through. they (Scotiabank) counselled me and pushed me because they knew how it affected me. They helped me to do projects and to do homework."
It was much needed support. Things were hard.
Thompson's father died when she was seven years old, and her mother was not a regular part of her life. She grew up with a stepmother and her children, who all lovingly pulled her into what she calls her 'big' family of seven members.
A neighbour who owned a shop gave her lunch money and sometimes took care of bus fare and other necessities for school.
"I was on the PATH programme, but there were times I went to school without lunch, and I would walk to school sometimes when I had no bus fare," Thompson said.
The bank funded her education throughout her five years at Excelsior High School, and subsequently the two additional years at St George's College in Kingston.
She is a recipient of the Scotiabank scholarship, which will help her to cover tuition fees and expenses for one year at university.
As she recollected her thoughts, in between, she checked the stock of candies and chocolates that she was hoping to sell to make extra money for university.
"Yes, they are providing that money, but I know I'm going to need more to take care of the other things, so I have to try and help myself," she said.
"I'm so thankful for the help," she says of the assistance from Scotiabank, "but I know I have to work hard to maintain my scholarship."
Thompson is accustomed to hard work, having copped eight subjects with two distinctions at Excelsior and four subjects in advanced level studies at St George's College. She chose economics and international relations, partly for the challenge, but also to help to make a real change, she says, in a country whose economy is not where it needs to be to give its youth a fighting chance.
"Yes, it is my passion, it's what I want to do, but I realise it's something that is really needed in Jamaica. If I can help to make Jamaica one of the best developing countries in the world, then I will," she said.