Hannah McSween photographed at her Petit Valley home. Makeup by Shenelle Escayg, photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

Originally published in Express Woman, June 11, 2017

My name is Hannah McSween.

I was about five or six years old when my mother and I vacationed with our family friend who has a daughter with Down Syndrome. I was never conscious of her disability, until I entered secondary school and there were conversations around disability awareness in the country. I believe this was around the time, in my life, that I became interested in gaining more information about persons with disabilities within our country and around the world.
While still at school, I volunteered my service to the Stern John Football Skills Awards Programme. At that time, the programme carried the persons from the Princess Elizabeth home to the preliminary world cup matches that Stern John was participating in. While at these matches, I was amazed at the reaction of the children. They were so full of life, so overjoyed and so full of laughter simply at their opportunity to be present at such an occasion.

They were Stern John’s special guests. At that moment, I felt an overwhelming need to become an advocate for the community of persons with disabilities, just so that I could continue to create such enthusiasm and happiness in their lives, just as I had seen that day.

My first step after finishing secondary school, was to search high and low for a tertiary programme, that could give me both the theoretical knowledge and practical experience in advocating for the community of persons with disabilities. While in search of such an institution, I worked for a year at Immortelle Children’s Centre.

This institution gave me first-hand experience about what I was getting myself into, an idea of some of the different professionals advocating in the field and an understanding of some of the different developmental disabilities we encounter in Trinidad and Tobago.

Hannah McSween photographed at her Petit Valley home. Makeup by Shenelle Escayg, photograph by Mark Lyndersay. Click to enlarge.

By the end of that academic year, I was overjoyed to be accepted into a Developmental Services Programme in Canada. This programme provided me with the combination of theoretical knowledge and practical experience I desired. I had the opportunity to work with children of dual diagnosis, the visually impaired and developmentally disabled, mental disorders, autism and the elderly who have developmental disabilities.

During my years at Humber, I could envision myself back in Trinidad doing the same as I was in Canada and implementing all the theory and practice I had learnt.
On my return to Trinidad, I discovered how difficult it was to find a job providing one-on-one support services. The need was there, however, for some reason I was constantly redirected to the government’s programmes.

Meanwhile, I managed to secure two part-time jobs, one in the field doing the Count Me In Puppet show; this was a show promoting inclusion of persons with disabilities in schools conducted by CKFTO, and another job out of the field.
After two years of searching, I finally started working at a couple special needs schools.

Again, while working at these schools, I became more and more aware of the need for professionals in the developmental services field, as well as the number of students with disabilities who need one-on-one support. This became a prime focus in my sight. I started to contact some of the professionals who have been in the field longer than I have, inquiring about developing a practice based on the type of one-on-one support that I offered.

In general the feedback was that there is a need for it in the field, however, most parents seek a private aide who may or may not be trained in the field. This saddened me and also enlightened and propelled me to start working on my own as a One-on-One Developmental Services Worker. This is a recognized profession in Canada in which I am qualified. It has been a struggle to say the least, however an extremely fulfilling and rewarding experience.

Since becoming self-employed, the persons I have worked with thus far have been delightful to work with. They have been enthusiastic to learn, entertaining and loving to say the least. Their parents have been supportive, communicative, encouraging and very expressive in what they have observed in their child since working with me.

They are very interested in the development and progress of their child’s Person Centered Plan (PCP) and the relationship between the children, their parents and I, is a very trusting and collaborative three-way learning experience. I love what I have chosen to do in this field, and I continue to grow and learn in it each day.
The production of the Footsoldiers segment of the Lioness Project series, highlighting the experiences of 12 workers in the disability field, is supported by the Cause an Effect Organisation, the Massy Foundation and A Very Special Disabilities Forum.