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Dr Neva Alexander - Living her dream by fulfilling others

Published:Sunday | September 21, 2014 | 9:00 AM
Dr Neva Helena Alexander
Dr Neva Alexander flashes a bright smile for Outlook's lens. - Photo by Brian McCalla
Dr Neva Alexander holding copies of the second edition of her book. - Photo by Brian McCalla
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Jody-Anne Lawrence, Lifestyle Reporter

Dr Neva Helena Alexander, has come a far way from her humble beginnings to becoming an author, entrepreneur and educator.

Moving from house to house as a child was not easy for her, and her days as a youth are not something she has the fondest memories of.

"I lived in about 12 different homes before leaving Jamaica at age 11," she tells Outlook. Her mother was a hard-working woman who tried her best to make an honest living for her and her brother. While her brother stayed in one location, her mother often left her in the care of others and, while some were willing to assist, most were very unpleasant.

"I was staying with a teacher at Windward Road at one point. She was very caring and nice, but not everyone was like her. There were occasions when the money from my mother came a day late and the person would pack me up and put me outside," Alexander recalled.

Though her father was present in her life, she was unable to stay with him as he had remarried. Despite his new union, she continued to have a good relationship with him.

Overcoming the challenges she faced, Dr Alexander went on to pass her Common Entrance Examination for Holy Childhood High School. However, she did not attend as she went to New York to be reunited with her mother.

Alexander was happy to be closer to her mother, who was a domestic helper, and seeing what her mother was going through became motivation for her. "I went with her on a few jobs, and seeing some of the houses made me say to myself, 'I am going to work for this'," said Dr Alexander - and work hard she did.

FALSE START WITH LAW

She studied law at John Jay College for Criminal Justice. Unfortunately, this did not materialise into a career for her. "I was working closely with a judge for a case and the defendant allegedly had some mob ties and one day, on my way home, I was being followed, and it was a lawyer that was also working on the case who took notice. It was such a frightening experience, and I realised that this was not for me," Dr Alexander recalls to Outlook.

By this time, she was coming into her own with her passion for education and culture. She did her master's in social sciences at Long Island University and her doctoral studies in educational leadership at Argosy

University. Education was her calling because as fate would have it, soon after she was offered a once in a lifetime opportunity- to teach leadership to women in Saudi Arabia.

"I remembered the call like it was yesterday.
It was December 26, 2009, I was in Macy's and I thought that my friends
were playing a practical joke on me because I never applied. What
happened was that they saw a copy of my résumé online and chose me. I
told them I would call back, expecting a friend to call and say it was a
joke," explained Alexander.

Her 'friend' did not call
back, and when she received the second call the following Wednesday,
she jumped at the opportunity. She did an interview and was offered the
job on the spot. Throughout the entire process, every thing seemed very
surreal to Alexander.

"It finally hit me when the visa
was in my passport. I was like, 'this is really happening'. I felt
everything. I was anxious, excited and fearful, because the culture was
so different and you did not want to do anything to offend them," notes
Alexander. This experience was one that she would never want to
change.

For this new adventure, she was not able to
carry a Bible and there were some men that still refused to do business
with women - something she experienced first-hand when she wanted to
check on her electric bill. She had to have one of her male colleagues
deal with the matter for her. But she experienced so much kindness. She
recalled going to the park with a colleague and being offered food by
different families. Alexander even made note of the signs that were on
some of the grocery stores that said, 'Please do not steal, just
ask'.

While many would consider the woman oppressed in
these countries, Alexander has a different perspective. "If a woman
needs something, she gets it. The women get what they want and the men
drop what they are doing and follow them or do it. They get a lot of
time to work on themselves, because they are taken care of. In essence,
the men's schedule is disrupted and not the other way around," she
noted.

It was teaching the women that motivated
Alexander to make two giant steps in her career - entrepreneurship and
becoming an author. During her interacting with the women, they were not
able to name one 'female leader' that they knew. She knew instantly
that this was something she wanted to change. She knew that this was not
only a problem in Saudi but in the world, and she wanted to motivate
women to accomplishing their full potential. So she wrote a
Females' Guide to Understanding Leadership. The irony
was that men are the main consumers of Alexander's
book.

She was already versed as a teacher, teaching
psychology, entrepreneurship among other courses at universities which
include City University of New York where she still lectures in
sociology of education online. While helping the women, she knew that
she wanted to start a programme that would recruit persons for
university.

National Educational Venture Alliance
(NEVA) was born upon her return to the United States. NEVA is an
organisation centred on educational services and exam test preparation.
Two years later, she expanded and brought an outlet home to the land of
her birth.

"Jamaica is my roots," she said simply. She
wanted to give everyone the opportunity that she had, and NEVA was a
perfect avenue to do so. They offer test prep classes for SAT, LSAT,
GMAT and GRE programmes. NEVA was launched in Jamaica in
July.

Alexander has relocated to Jamaica to get the
ball rolling as the main lecturer. However, children are exposed to
other lecturers through online learning.

This is not
the end of the story for her as she would like to have a second book
directed at teenagers.

"There is so much left for me
to do. I cannot tell you where exactly I will be in 10 years, but I know
I will be educating," she said.

When it comes to
potential, your mind is your own limitation and Alexander proves this.
Her advice, "Never give up. Never envy anyone for what they have,
because you never know what they went through or how hard they worked
for it."