Merciful Michelle - Volunteerism is young doctor's best medicine
No matter how often gunshots rang out in the volatile east Kingston community called Dunkirk where she lived, or how small her mother's salary was as a domestic helper, Michelle Gordon and her two brothers were aware that attending school was one thing that was non-negotiable while growing up.
It is for this reason why she is surprised at the number of Jamaicans who are unable to read and write, and the little girl from Dunkirk, who is now a medical doctor, has vowed to help as many of these individuals as she can this year, despite her hectic schedule which sees her working sometimes seven days each week.
The 25-year-old doctor's university education was fully financed by local charity group Food For The Poor, and now she wants to give back by not only mending people's body, but also their minds.
During the just-ended Christmas season, Gordon volunteered with the organisation and helped out at one of their treats for children. She is eager to do more.
"Helping out is something I am definitely passionate about, and I am looking forward to doing a lot more of that this month when my schedule is a little bit lighter," said Gordon, who still calls Dunkirk her home.
Gordon was raised in a close-knit extended family which comprised her mother, her uncle, who is a painter, her grandmother, her two brothers and her two cousins.
Everyone, including her father who didn't live with her, pitched in to make sure that she never missed a day in school. On Saturdays, she attended extra classes and volunteered at the Missionaries of Charity in downtown Kingston. On Sundays, she went to church.
IMPORTANCE OF EDUCATION
"Our education was very important to them, so if it is their last dollar that they had, they would spend it towards education, so you were more inclined to get a book that you needed for school rather than shoes that you thought that you liked," she said.
"I have been going to extra classes from as long as I can remember, to the point where it seemed like the norm. It was the norm to be at school after regular school hours to attend classes and even during the summer, it was the norm to attend summer school, which personally I never had a problem with," explained Gordon.
When there was an upsurge of violence in her community, efforts were made to protect her and her siblings from getting caught in the crossfire.
She recalls on one occasion her mother sent her and her younger brother to live with relatives for two weeks in another community, to ensure that their school attendance was not disrupted.
"There were days when you were really wondering if you should be going to school," she said, before noting, "I can say thankfully, with the grace of God and with the support of my family, I have never really been absent from school because of violence in the community."
Her family's dedication and her commitment to her academic pursuits paid off. She achieved 10 grade ones and two grade twos when she sat her Caribbean Examination Council subjects at the Convent of Mercy Academy (Alpha).
In 2011, she was given the prestigious Governor General Award for Excellence because of her achievements.
Despite her parent's best efforts, Gordon was unable to take up the offer to attend medical school when she first got her acceptance letter, and so she deferred her studies for a year. Her family just did not have the money to finance her dreams.
"The university setting is very hard, you are a smaller fish in a very big pond, and then that's when you start to realise the difficulties and the extent to which your family support puts you," said Gordon.
Fortunately for her, a Good Samaritan overheard her then principal at Alpha speaking about her predicament and he decided to do what he could to help her.
He connected her with Food For The Poor and the charity group granted her a scholarship. Only tuition was covered, and so her family continued to do their part and she continued to do without excesses.
"I never boarded up by the university, so for the five years I commuted back and forth in-between school and then classes," said Gordon, whose younger brother is now attending university.
The doctor, who completed her studies in July, is now doing her rotations at the Kingston Public Hospital. She has found it to be an exciting, yet gruelling experience.
"Transitioning from the classroom to the actual work setting, it is a lot and it takes a toll," said Gordon, even as she repeated her vow to do all she can to help her fellow Jamaicans.