Karen Sudu, Gleaner Writer
SPANISH TOWN, St Catherine:FOR DOREEN Lawe-Soutar of Friendship Meadows in Spanish Town, St Catherine, life has not been without challenges. However, this has not been a deterrent.
In September 1970, after completing a five-year stint at Cavaliers All-Age School in St Andrew as a pre-trained teacher, Lawe-Soutar matriculated to St Joseph's Teachers' College. However, tragedy struck in October.
"On October 26, merely two months after I started, I lost my right arm in a road accident. I was living off Chisholm Avenue in Kingston, and I went on a bus, and before I could hold on properly, the conductor rang off the bus and I fell off the steps and the back wheel ran over my hand crushing it," Lawe-Soutar, who hails from Magotty, St Elizabeth, reflected.
Not daunted by the disability, then 28 years old, she learnt new dexterity skills and embraced a new lifestyle to facilitate the realisation of her lifelong ambition. With the drive to succeed, she returned to St Joseph's Teachers' College the following September and completed a two-year certificate course in teaching.
"I was sent to Hope Valley Experimental School to do my internship programme and Mr Clifton Lawrence was the head teacher then, and he said I did very well, so he kept me on staff," she shared with The Gleaner.
During her 17-year stay at that institution, Lawe-Soutar served as teacher, senior teacher, head of the infant department, and house leader.
In 1991, she assumed the role of principal for the Carberry Court Special School, operated under the umbrella of the National Children's Home, where she served until 2004.
"It was very challenging working there, but when you get into working with those children, you get to love them, and I enjoyed it," said Lawe-Soutar, who also worked in the United Kingdom for one year on a teacher-exchange programme.
She has been credited with the institution's increased enrolment from 50 to 140, an expanded physical plant to accommodate the increased enrolment, as well as the expansion and upgrading of vocational offerings to better facilitate the development of practical skills in agriculture, homemaking, and art and craft.
In her earlier years, Lawe-Soutar's work went beyond the classroom to include church and community activities. She was an active member of the Mothers' Union and Stewardship Committee at the St James Cathedral in Spanish Town. She was also a member of the St Catherine Central Lions Club, serving as president from 2009 to 2010. The unrelenting visionary also served as secretary for the Combined Disabilities Association, in addition to working with the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action on Women Conquering the Odds.
Lawe-Soutar's willpower and tenacity have won her the admiration of many.
"I admire her a lot, knowing that she has one arm and does not allow it to slow her down at all. Her self-esteem is very high, and she just gets on with her life as if today is the last day. She is living it to the fullest with her disability," said Felicia Squire, parish organiser, National Council for Senior Citizens, St Catherine branch.
For Deleta Hemmings-Watson, a retired practical nurse, Lawe-Soutar has been a beacon of light.
"When I was working, I said to some people, 'I have a friend. She has one hand and she does her farming, she cooks, washes, she teaches. At times she makes me feel shame, and I have my two hands and am not as active as she is'," Hemmings-Watson said bursting into laughter.
The mother of four - three girls and one boy - Lawe-Soutar now serves as the president for the St James Cathedral Senior Citizens' Club in Spanish Town, and is a board member of the St Catherine Parish Library.
The resilient senior has earned many accolades, among them the Jamaica Teachers' Association's Golden Torch Award for 37 years' service to education in 2002. She was also recognised by the St Catherine Parish Council for service to education, as well as by the Lions Club of Central St Catherine.
In 2005, she was honoured by the Carberry Court Special School's parent-teachers association and staff.