Fri | Dec 9, 2016

Deandra Chung… Mending Dreams and Rebuilding Lives

Published:Monday | March 16, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Born and raised in Linstead, St Catherine, in a small district called Rose Hall, Deandra Chung always knew that one day she would be her own boss and, in the process, change lives.

Her educational journey began at Bread of Life Christian Academy, but she had to switch to a primary school when the financial burden became too much. "Even though we weren't rich, my mother ensured that we all got the best education."

Her dream to attend a Kingston-based high school was dashed when after her GSAT exams, she was placed at McGrath. "When I realised I had passed for McGarth, I was so upset because it wasn't my first choice."

Being at a non-traditional high school without much resources, Chung realised that with the help of her mother, she had to work extra hard to achieve her goals. "I worked hard to ensure that every year at prize-giving I was on the podium collecting something." By her third year in high school, Chung was made a prefect. Her hard work paid off even more when she was successful in five CXCs and six CAPE subjects.

Fresh out of high school, she landed a job as a receptionist, and after a year, decided to try and balance work and school. "Sometimes I wouldn't get home until after midnight or even close to 1 a.m. By the time I got home and fell asleep, it was time for me to get back up. I had to wake up at four every morning to ensure I got to work on time."

Chung was faced with a tough decision - survive on minimal sleep or find a way to move into Kingston. But making ends meet on a shoestring budget was difficult, and sometimes finding her tuition fee was a mammoth task. "My school fee was always late. I would pay the day or so before exam. I struggled, but I did it."

Leaving Excelsior Community College with an associate degree in tourism management paved the way for Chung to obtain a bachelor's degree in tourism management and set her on a path to realising her dream.

Speaking her dream into being, one day her Facebook musings got her some unwanted attention and put her job into jeopardy. "I always wanted to be my own boss, so one day, I just randomly posted on Facebook: 'One day I will become my own boss'. That didn't go down well with many people and I got a call demanding its removal. I had to delete the post," she recalled, adding that her boss at the time saw it and thought it was rude.

But deleting the post did not erase her aspirations.

After four years working as a receptionist and barely getting by on her monthly salary, Chung knew it was time to walk away to make her dream company, Complete Accident Support, a reality. "I knew I had the ability and the know-how, I just had to do it." She noted that Peter Abrahams one of her mentors, had started a similar company about a decade ago. "He inspired me and taught me how to be successful in the world of business. I later had the opportunity to work in a company that offered similar services in which I was more exposed to the business after serving as a senior client relations officer."

Complete Accident Support (CAS) helps Jamaicans who are injured or wronged in any kind of accident, such as motor-vehicle accidents, slip and fall, hotel accidents or injured on the job, to get compensation. "For a very long time, some Jamaicans have been ignorant of their rights or they don't have the money to pursue the matter. So our main purpose is to bridge that gap by providing legal financing and helping them in the step-by-step process. No upfront fee is required and our clients repay only if an award is made."

Now that her company is three years old, the young entrepreneur recalls that, at first, starting her own company was not easy. "I got a loan to start the business, but that wasn't cash in my hand." To keep her company alive, she had to make some serious sacrifices, one of which was pawning a gold ring her mother had given her, just to be able to pay her office bills. "I decided that my business was not going to close. I had to find a way. I had to make a decision. That's when I decided to part with something that was very precious to me. For a moment, I felt as if I was about to pawn my soul, but I had no choice, it had to be done," she explained as a look of slight regret crept up on her face.

But it did pay off. "My first pay cheque from being my own boss was way more than what I earned as a receptionist. When I looked at that cheque and compared it with what I was getting as a receptionist, I was overcome with emotion," she said.

However, Chung notes that her new-found satisfaction wasn't only about her or her company making money, but the fact that she was helping people stand up for their rights while giving them a chance to better their lives. "Recently, we were able to get a young man an award of $3 million for an accident he was involved in, and he was able to take that money and purchase a piece of land. That's the kind of impact I want to have on the lives of ordinary Jamaicans and that is why I want Complete Accident Support to continue to grow so we can open more branches and hire hundreds, while helping thousands more get justice."

Her cause is one that hits very close to home. "At age nine, my brother had a back injury. I remember it like it was yesterday" she reminisced sadly. "I remembered him walking into surgery, after that he never walked again. This had a severe impact on our lives psychologically, emotionally and financially. Times got harder for us as he had to do surgery after surgery which drained us financially and, back then, there was no one supporting people the way Complete Accident Support helps victims today. In fact, there wasn't any help for Jamaicans injured in accidents or on the job, until Peter Abrahams started this type of business.

Chung had also had her own near-death experience. "When I was 12, I had an accident where a three-inch nail pierced my stomach. I almost bled to death. I still have the mark, which reminds me every day that God has given me another shot at life and that I am here for a purpose."

At 26 years old, Chung has made her dream come true, while learning some very important life lessons. "I've made decisions which didn't turn out to be as rewarding as I expected, but one has to experience challenges in order to achieve. I was never one of the best or brightest students in school or in college, but I tried. I was always a fighter and at the end of the day, I achieved my goals because I didn't stop fighting, and that is the major reason (that) today I can say I moved from answering the phone at the front desk in somebody else's business to answering the phone in the front office of my own company."

She encourages young women to make a life plan, stick to it and always be willing to sacrifice short-term pleasures such as partying and brand-name fashion for the greater long-term success.