Tears flowed down the cheeks of Phyllis Seabourne as she accepted a cheque from JN Small Business Loans (JNSBL) at its head office in downtown Kingston recently.
The company had helped her to expand her shop in Rock Pond, Red Hills, St Andrew, some 11 years ago, and now was helping her to get back on her feet.
Seabourne's joy struggled to break through the pain as each teardrop fell. Greater than the pain was her sense of victory as she laid to rest the chain-like series of unfortunate events, which could have crushed her livelihood and dreams.
Indeed, the year 2013 was not the best for Seabourne, but similar to the lesson in the pop tune Try by the American artiste Pink, which was further popularised by the Jamaican powerhouse Tessanne Chin on the United States talent show 'The Voice', Seabourne soon came to realise that being burnt by fire doesn't mean that you will die.
"You just have to remain positive. It's rough, but you can't allow it to overwhelm you," the 55-year-old said in a quiet voice, as she reflected on her trials.
Seabourne's troubles began with the death of her youngest brother in May. An asthmatic, his health issues often affected his ability to maintain employment; as a result, he, his daughter and grandchildren were dependent on Seabourne, his eldest sister, to care for them.
"He used to come by me and anything I had, I always gave it to them," she recalled.
Then one afternoon at home, she received a frightening call.
"Someone found my brother in his house on Waltham Park Road. I went down there with two of my other brothers and we found him in the house lying on his face," she recounted. He had suffered an asthma attack and was unable to seek help.
DAYS OF ANGUISH
The days to follow were filled with personal anguish for Seabourne, who was close to her brother.
"Two years ago, our mother died and we never knew his father, so I used to look after him," she said.
Facing personal health issues of her own, Seabourne was admitted to hospital for surgery in September.
This was during her time of grief and while she had the added responsibility of caring for her brother's daughter and his two grandchildren.
"I was informed that my surgery was put off until next year, but I went back to the hospital on the Monday for a check-up; and on my way back, I bought some things to restock the shop and didn't even pack them.
"On Tuesday, I was home, and I wasn't feeling so well, so I came out of the shop and sat at the front."
While she was speaking with a customer, someone shouted that smoke was coming from Seabourne's wooden, four-bedroom house.
"When I got to my room door, I couldn't enter. And, by the time I went around and went into the biggest room, the fire swept through the house."
The shop, which was adjacent to the house and also constructed from wood, went up in flames too. She lost everything.
"I only had the clothes on my back," she remembered.
The days that followed would be harrowing for the mother of three and her two grandchildren, as they moved into her eldest daughter's small house nearby.
"There are many days when we did not have anything to eat," she recollected, despite assistance from her member of parliament, and some church groups.
Seabourne had started her business as a peanut vendor, supplementing her income by doing days' work such as house cleaning and laundry.
As her business grew, she plied her roadside vending on a full-time basis on the streets of Kingston; and as her inventory grew, she decided to open a shop at her home in Rock Pond. That was 11 years ago.
"I started off selling a few household items; and customers encouraged me to sell more things. Therefore, I stock up the shop little by little, until I started to sell grocery items and other necessities," Seabourne explained.
In need of money to fully stock her shop, she came across a JNSBL advertisement and decided to visit the location in downtown Kingston.
"The first time, I got $12,000. I bought supplies for the shop and when I sell I go back and buy and stretch. Then I started to sell clothes, and people liked the things I was buying and selling," she related.
Seabourne would subsequently receive in excess of 10 loans from JNSBL over her 11-year relationship with the company.
Her business continued to perform well, allowing her to even lend a hand to others in Rock Pond.
"People in the area just love when I cook because sometimes when mi cook, I can't even get anything for myself. Mi have to just hand dem my plate," she remembered.
Similar to many other business operators, the Christmas season would be Seabourne's busiest time of year, and although counting her losses this year, she is also counting her gains.
With some help from JNSBL, she has been able to rebuild a shop to resume business.
Seabourne's JNSBL field officer, Candice Campbell, visited her after the fire, took photographs, and discussed her plight with a supervisor and manager, who responded promptly.
"Let us help her build back the shop," was the decision, Campbell related. "And we agreed that once she is back in business, she will be able to focus on her most immediate needs," she said.
"When you have had a relationship as long and positive as we have had with Ms Seabourne, you have to do what you can to ensure that her business continues to develop," added Philip Bernard, general manager, JNSBL.
He noted that in the final analysis, the concept of microfinance is not only about providing loans, but establishing relationships with people to help them develop the right solutions for their growth.
With her small shop up and running again, hope glimmers for Seabourne and her family as she looks forward to a better year.
"I just want business to pick up again so that the children can get regular meals and go to school," she said, looking out from the window of her new shop.