Above: Leslie-Ann Huggins photographed on the grounds of the University of the West Indies. Make-up by Shenelle Escayg, photography by Mark Lyndersay.

For me having a disability involved self-acceptance and self-love. This was since my disability was as a result of a sudden Cerebral Vascular Accident, commonly called a stroke. After having an ischemic stroke in 2011 my life was drastically changed. All that I had worked at achieving was taken away gradually and for many, these sudden changes can induce a state of panic and confusion.

Cumulatively, I became disabled, divorced and discharged from my job. Suddenly the crowd that once clapped in support of my success, were now using those same hands to signal no and close once opened doors. Inadvertently though, the determination that was nurtured during my upbringing encouraged my perseverance.

One day I said to myself “I’m going to write another CXC subject and see what happens.” After three months of reading the text I wrote the exam and got a B. Elated by the results, I realized that all was not lost by the stroke. I like to compare this to the scripture that says, “When the enemy comes in like a flood, the spirit of the lord will lift a standard.”

He certainly did and so I stepped out in faith and enrolled in the Psychology class at Costaatt’s Open Campus, San Fernando. This too came with its challenges, such as getting a Lord Street taxi to go to the campus. Sometimes they would refuse to drop students by the bridge, to save time from traffic. This meant we would have to walk for a longer distance to go to class.

Leslie Ann Huggins

Additionally, I was still employed at this time and it would mean changing my clothes for class in my colleague’s car after work. However if you persevere a way will be made for you to get through. I had one friend and after class at nights we would travel home together. Also, the library staff were very supportive in helping me find the appropriate learning resources, and even offered me assistance to class periodically. Eventually I successfully completed that program.

My next ambition was to attend the University of the West Indies where I applied to pursue a degree in Psychology with a minor in Criminology. Whilst some admired my ambition others seemed to fear my ability to accomplish this goal. I went ahead and signed up and was accepted. Getting to class from San Fernando sometimes meant four means of transportation.

I would then take the shuttle to Curepe at nights and then a car to San Fernando then one to Claxton Bay. I did it, however, it meant fighting up with the crowd to get transport and sometimes being rejected by persons who did not want to be bothered by my disability and cane in their vehicle. Still I persevered, seeing the destination and not being too consumed by the process.

After a while I eventually got my own clique of friends. They were instruments of love and would gladly assist me in getting home with their vehicles. After a while I relocated to a closer address and even through motivation began to drive again. I also won the first ever young stroke competition and represented Trinidad and Tobago in Jacksonville, Florida.

In 2018 I graduated with my degree in Psychology. Awaiting a job, I decided that these added accomplishments should be utilized to help motivate our youth towards being positive assets in society. I became a volunteer with the St. Mary’s Children’s Home and The Eldorado Police Youth Club, where as part of the executive I now actively participate along with my colleagues in shaping the lives of our youth.

I am also now pursuing a Master’s degree in Human Resource Management and after having a totally successful last semester, my newest ambition is participating in a sign language class. I even started attending a gym where my instructor and his wife continue to cheer my full recovery, through focused exercises.

The newer social model for persons with disabilities supports full inclusion. I want to be able to break down barriers. My friend’s son is hearing impaired and attends the Marabella Secondary School, his future aspirations includes attending the University of the West Indies. I need to support his full inclusion.

Not all disabilities are visible, some are encouraged by acts of fear, hatred and ignorance. For some individuals their own lack of self-esteem, lack of self-love and self-acceptance allows the power and control of others to disable them.

For the enrichment and empowerment of our society we should support and expand beyond limitations that have been preset by others. We need to know our worth and even as parents instill this self-love in our children, so that they can be motivated to do their best. Challenging those creative juices that are developed early in their neural development. So that those energies can be used productively in our lovely society.

Sponsors: Dale McLeod, Jacqueline Scott, Starlite Collection, Sacha Makeup, JB Fernandez Memorial Trust II