Fri | Feb 21, 2020

Special-needs standout sets sights on big dreams

Published:Monday | December 16, 2019 | 12:16 AMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer
A clown paints the face of a student  with special needs during the Sanmerna Foundation Annual Christmas Treat which was held at the Half-Way Tree Transport Centre in St Andrew.
A clown paints the face of a student with special needs during the Sanmerna Foundation Annual Christmas Treat which was held at the Half-Way Tree Transport Centre in St Andrew.

It was cheer all around. Bright smiles and eager faces were seen as the clown twisted the balloons, and many bold children joined performers on stage to sing a line.

Through a partnership between Sanmerna Foundation and Inspire to Empower Foundation, special-needs students were féted at a Christmas treat last week.

The annual treat, now in its third year, was held at the Half-Way Tree Transport Centre in St Andrew.

Almost 150 students from Genesis Academy, Lister Mair/Gilby High School for the Deaf, Phoenix Academy, Salvation Army School for the Blind, Hope Valley Experimental, Randolph Lopez School of Hope, Abilities Foundation, and Carberry Special School were present.

Students were entertained by Laud Dance Ministry, the dance troupe and band of Pembroke Hall High School and singer Candy Isaacs, among others.

The treat was extra special for 22-year-old Trishanna Bertram, who was celebrating her birthday.

Bertram, a student at the Abilities Foundation, has cerebral palsy, which affects her motor skills.

A former student at School of Hope, she had not met the requirements to sit external examinations but has subsequently shown remarkable improvement since she enrolled in the data operations unit.

“My teachers have decided for me to do CXC principles of business, English and two other subjects and I will be sitting those exams [next] May.”

This is not in the scope of the Abilities Foundation, but her teacher, Therese Braham, explained that she is one of three students deemed competent enough to sit exams.

Bertram has set sights on becoming a data-entry clerk or a web designer and plans to focus on her writing.

“I write poems – just give me the topic and I write about it,” she said, quickly adding that she posts them on social media and sends them to friends and family.

She continued: “JUTC [Jamaica Urban Transit Company] is showing that they appreciate us who have a disability. It’s my second time, and it was fun last year. To anybody living with a disability, the sky is the limit. Don’t let your disability stop you from getting your goals.”

Nigerian High Commissioner to Jamaica Janet Olisa and local star sprinter Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce were two of the special guests at the treat. The children received many embracing hugs from both women and were encouraged to unearth their talents.

Chairman of the Sanmerna Foundation, Viris Clarke-Ellis, said her team has been happy to serve for the past three years.

“We find that many times the disabled community is underserved, so we wanted not just to help the able-bodied, but to reach out to those persons, particularly our children, who are sometimes forgotten,” she said.

“The smiles on their faces and the appreciation that they showed, there was no way that we couldn’t continue. Every year we give scholarships to students who are transitioning from primary to high school. We are looking forward to the day when we can also offer them scholarships,” said Clarke-Ellis.

JUTC Managing Director Paul Abrahams expressed gratitude to caregivers and his staff who transport special-needs children.

“As much as JUTC supports this, this initiative is the brainchild and the development of three very loyal and dedicated JUTC staff members who have really gone out of their way to help. It does my heart good to know that there is still good in Jamaica,” Abrahams said.

Sanmerna Paper Products is a local company owned and operated by brothers Robert and Mark White.

judana.murphy@gleanerjm.com