Garrison youth turns university lecturer
Latoya Grindley, Gleaner Writer
Your place of birth doesn't determine your destiny, though it could pose additional challenges. however, with the intrinsic drive to succeed, the sky is really the limit and the world your platform.
Twenty-nine-year-old Dr André Haughton is one such walking testimony. An economist and lecturer at the University of the West Indies, Haughton is the first to tell you that he grew up in a garrison community. This community, to be exact, is Death Valley in Mount Salem, Montego Bay.
Growing up in the typical family structure almost a norm in those communities, Haughton had the ever-present single mother charged with the responsibility of taking care of him and his four siblings - two biological and two adopted.
Experiencing the unselfish sacrifices his mother made for her children, Haughton recognised from early that there was inequality in the standard of living persons could afford.
"One day, I went home and I asked my mother why some people were rich and some poor. She said that some people were just better off than others. I was annoyed by that."
By age 15, he knew what his contribution to society would be. "My aim was to see how I could increase the earning potential of the poor and underprivileged in a competitive world," he told Flair.
He knew that fulfilling this pledge to self would depend on hard work and doing well academically. But that would also mean turning around in his grades, and schoolwork was just never the most important thing to him.
The first to admit he wasn't the smartest in school, Dr Haughton says the very first class he was placed in at his primary school was the worst in the grade. That low point didn't last too long, though, as he was placed third in his class and ultimately moved on to a higher stream.
After primary school, he transititoned to Cornwall College. Joining a proud legacy, Haughton was very excited, but soon his grades began to trend downward. "After grade seven, I didn't get the best grades and I ended up in the two lowest streams in grade eight and nine. When you are placed in those grades, it is hardly likely that you will graduate." The demotion didn't affect Haughton at that time because he was now more interested in being the 'cool kid'.
"At that point I wasn't focused on my career path. I was more into my social life. I played football, skulled school and 'run boat'."
This behaviour continued and so did the disappointing grades. But it all stopped in grade 10 when he got a mentor, a teacher. Now refocused on his goals and reminded of what he wanted to achieve, Haughton said he buckled up. And it was no turning back for him as he graduated with seven CXC subjects, even attaining the highest grade in Accounts in the island in his year.
Accepted to sixth form and what served as preparatory work for his future, Dr Haughton thanks his alma mater for teaching him valuable lessons. "I had friends from all walks of life and upbringing and this helped to shape me. Cornwall College is the main high school in Montego Bay and the good, the bad and ugly go there. I was also very active as I played football for my school, I was a member of Key Club and I founded the Business Club."
Graduating from sixth form was a big accomplishment for the determined young man. But his dreams of success nearly remained just dreams. "After my sixth-form graduation, we were walking back in a group. It was in a volatile area and a group of guys came and attacked us. I got stabbed two times".
Luckily one of the wounds was one inch away from his heart. "I remember my mother over me crying. I nearly died," he said, as if he was reliving the episode.
He continued, "It just showed me that life can be here today and not tonight. We should maximise on our time and use it wisely."
That chapter in his life over, Haughton was now starting to achieving bigger and better. "I had the choice between going on to become a professional footballer or school. My mother preferred school."
He later enrolled at the University of the West Indies, Mona. When he applied he had not the slightest idea how his school fees would be paid. But his mother made it happen. "I didn't know about sudents' loan. My mother and grandmother had to throw partner to pay all my fees and they did — little by little."
He saw the troubles and sacrifice that his family went through and vowed that he would never put them through that again. "I said to myself that next year I have to get a scholarship."
With pen to paper and eyes on books, so said so done! He ended first year with eight As and B+ in the other two courses.
An active boarder on Taylor Hall, Block C, he was a part of a mentorship programme, an active footballer and also served as cultural entertainment affairs co-ordinator. These activities, along with his grades, made him a great candidate for scholarships and he was successfully granted the KPMG Peat Marwick Scholarship to complete his undergraduate degree.
Initially enrolling to do a major in accounting, Haughton realised that it wasn't challenging enough and decided to do a double major as according to him, being an accountant could not solve issues he wanted to.
Excellent time manager
A high achiever, right throughout his undergraduate years he maintained a well-balanced social and academic life. "If I partied for eight hours, I would study for eight hours."
An excellent time manager, the all-rounder graduated with first-class honours. That set the stage for a prestigious scholarship for which he had applied. "I got the Thomas De La Rue scholarship in 2003 to complete my master's degree. It was a rigorous series of interviews, but I had the confidence."
Based in England, De La Rue is the supplier of a variety of high-security documents, including currency, passports, stamps and driver's licences to countries all over the world.
"When I got the scholarship, in 2004, I was flown to get first-hand experience about the whole operation of money. In a factory space as far as the eye can see, money is stacked. It makes you realise that money is really just paper, but it was an amazing experience."
Completing his master's in two years, he then taught for another two years until he was awarded the British Commonwealth Scholarship to complete his PhD in economics. "I decided that if I wanted to be at the top of my game I needed my PhD and I applied for the scholarship."
This application was his second as he was turned down before. "That was the first time I was being rejected for a scholarship. But my mother insisted that I should apply again and that second time I was shortlisted. I knew that once I made that list, I was going to get it."
He was right and it was off to the University of Essex to complete his PhD, with his thesis surrounding monetary policy in the Caribbean. That was his first time living overseas for an extended period of time.
"I chose to go to the United Kingdom especially because of my experience with De La Rue. Plus, I always wanted to attend university abroad and that was the perfect opportunity."
Now home since last summer after four years abroad, he describes his experience as mind-opening as it gave him the opportunity to see and understand various cultures.
But even with the fun and eye-pening experiences, there were difficult times. "I would talk to my mother at least three times a weak. And she would always say if you want good, your nose haffi run, and that helped to motivate me," he told Flair.
While satisfied with his achievements to date, Dr Haughton is not yet content. "Until I achieve a decrease in poverty, improve efficiency in the country and help to provide resources for the inner-city youths to escape the 'system', I won't be fulfilled."
He plans to do this through his Valley Foundation which was formed with Rohan Brown when he returned last year. "This is really formalising what we have been doing for a long time by helping the youths. Our aim is to build communities, get funding to better the resources and infrastructure and to allow children growing up to maximise on their true positive potential."
Starting in Mount Salem, it is expected to spread to other communities islandwide and eventually the Caribbean.
Additionally, Haughton is now in the process of writing his book, Illusion of Money - surviving with and surviving without. "Most people are misguided, they do everything just to make money. But they don't realise that it's activities to earn an income which are most important. They forget about maximising their full potential so they can be compensated for it."
Outside of his two major initiatives and lecturing, he also conducts research and presents at economic forums. He will also, later this year, represent the region at a World Finance conference in Brazil.
With so much and a lot more on his plate, Haughton still finds the time to enjoy partying, playing football and spending time with friends and family. He never forgets that his mother, Jasmin, is his number-one cheerleader who pushes him to ultimately do his best - and he is doing just that!