Dave Lindo, Gleaner Writer
AFTER LIVING with a disability from a very young age at a boys' home, Newton Coote overcame the obstacles that came his way and now enjoys life as manager of the Catering Department at St John Bosco Boys' Home in Hatfield, Manchester, a place where he spent most of his life.
At the tender age of four, Coote's life turned into a nightmare. While living in Kingston with his family, his hands were severely burnt by a family member as punishment for eating some of his younger brother's food.
So severe were the burns that four fingers on his right hand were severed, and his left hand was extensively burnt.
He was taken to the Maxfield Park Children's Home after the incident, where he stayed until he was about 10. "He was then transferred to the St John Bosco Boys' Home, which is operated by the Sisters of Mercy missionaries. "At that age, they wanted you to learn a trade, so they sent me to Bosco for that purpose," Coote explained.
Coote went through a very difficult period during his teenage years. "I was going through a state of depression. You started becoming a teenager, so you started to get more conscious of your hand, or stuff like that. So I went to do some counselling with the sisters. During the counselling, I would talk about my hand and just start to cry."
Coote gradually started to cope with his disability, and with the encouragement of Sister Noreen Grey, who he described as his mentor, he developed an interest in the catering area. "She was the one who got me in the kitchen first," Coote disclosed. "I started to grease pans when she was baking and baked like pumpkin bread or Alabama bun. When she was leaving, she taught me how to bake them."
Coote learnt to cook Chinese, Indian, and American dishes from the other sisters at the St John Bosco and Alpha Boys' homes.
"Sister Benedict ran a home economics school in Kingston, and I learnt a lot there, but the rest of my skills were self-taught," Coote explained.
Now a master chef, Coote was appointed as the manager of the catering department at St John Bosco in 1995 after working as a supervisor when the department was established in 1993.
Over the years, he has taught many boys the art of catering. "A lot of the boys who have gone through the catering programme are now working on cruise ships, in hotels on the north coast, and many other top jobs," he said.
Coote, now 40 years old, is grateful for the opportunity he received at the St John Bosco Boys' home. "I have a lot of respect for Sister Susan (director of St John Bosco Boys Home). From I just came here, she didn't treat me any different from the normal boys, and that made a difference," Coote said.
He said he harboured little resentment regarding what happened to him at age four, and he would like to meet his siblings - three brothers and a sister. "They were living at Australia Road in Olympic Gardens, but when we went there, we were told that they moved long ago," he said.
He added: "When I look at my life, look at what I have been through, and look at others, I say I have a lot to give thanks for. Others have been through worse things, so I say to others, never give up on life."
Coote is focusing on completing a correspondence course in management and food services at Grant Institute.
PHOTOS BY DAVE LINDO