JMMB scholarship recipient seeks to transform lives through social work
A major plight of transitioning wards of the State is furthering their education, which is often blighted by little or no support.
According to reports, more than one-fifth of wards who are discharged from Jamaica's child-protection system annually have a challenge in transitioning seamlessly into the society and pursuing higher education.
Today, Gabriel Hall, who is a former ward of the State, has been able to defy these odds as one of the 93 JMMB Joan Duncan Foundation scholarship recipients, for the 2018-19 academic year. Her story is one riddled with obstacles, yet she has stood as a resilient force, full of positivity, possibility thinking and promise.
This is a testament to the transformation that has occurred in her life. She credits this change, in part, to the foundation and the opportuni-ties it has afforded her through its scholarship and Conver-sations for Greatness (CFG) programme.
The now 20-year-old Hall recalls being a reserved individual, who suffered from low self-esteem because of several unfortunate incidents that plagued her earlier life. Due to an unstable home environment, marked by abuse and constantly moving from parish to parish - which resulted in infrequent school attendance - Hall eventually started in foster care in 2014. Her grandmother was appointed her guardian initially, and later in 2016, she transitioned to state care at the Father's House Home for Girls, Montego Bay, St James.
... 'State care saved me'
Although admitting that state care was not void of its challenges, she credits it for helping to shape the person she is today, because of the stability, discipline and the financial support it provided.
"While living with my mother, I was not under any order and I had limited guidance. State care saved me and helped me to be the person I am today. Living in the children's home gave me emotional support, a mentor, and gave me all the basic things I needed to attend school," Hall said.
With the structure provided in foster and state care, Hall was able to complete Ocho Rios High School with nine Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate subjects, subsequently attaining an award for outstanding performance from the Ministry of Education in 2016. In addition to being actively involved in her school community, she was named deputy head girl and prefect.
Having benefited from the kindness of 'strangers' for most of her life, it is no surprise that Hall's career choice reflects her gratitude for the positive impact these individuals have had on her. The now third-year student at Northern Caribbean University (NCU), pursuing a degree in social work, sees this career path as her way of paying it forward to support others who have also experienced similar unfortunate life circumstances.
"I chose social work because, while I was a ward of the State, I met some really good people in the foster-care system and I want to be a part of that group of persons who make a difference, by going beyond the call of duty," Hall said.
It was while working with the Montego Bay Autism Centre that Hall was introduced to the JMMB Joan Duncan foundation, a chance introduction that led to a change of fate. In addition to providing employment, as the project assistant for a regional coordinator of the Foundation's national project, CFG, had a transformational impact on her life.
"I used the principles taught in the CFG programme every day and it has truly changed my mindset. As I see the possibility in everything, I can conquer the world. I am the best," Hall shared, as she lauded the programme for the transformation it has allowed her to experience as a more positive and self-confident person.
For the new academic year, the foundation offered over $7 million in scholarships, primarily to students at the tertiary level, and to others at the primary and secondary levels, on a case-by-case basis.