Above: Salome Shammai Jordan photographed at the Student Life and Development Department,UWI. Photography by Mark Lyndersay, Make-up by Shenelle Escayg.

Originally published in the Trinidad Express on September 16, 2019

My name is Salome Jordan and my journey with Cerebral Palsy began on September 27th, 1996.

After my birth, the doctors indicated to my parents that I would have brain damage because of a lack of oxygen reaching to my brain during the birthing process but they were unsure to what extent the damage would be.

As you can imagine, this would break the heart of any parent, but just as any parent would, my parents wanted the best for me. It was then, the fight of a lifetime began.

I was released from the hospital and my parents took me to Dr. David Bratt for a checkup. At the age of 8 months old, both Dr. Bratt and a group of Canadian doctors diagnosed me as having Cerebral Palsy.

Dr. Bratt recommended therapy sessions with an Occupational Therapist to aid me in reaching my developmental milestones. I was only able to visit an Occupational Therapist at age 8 and stopped the sessions by age 13 due to financial constraints.

My pediatrician always urged my parents to begin my education at a “mainstream” school. My parents searched relentlessly for a school that would be willing to accept me. It was a series of closed doors, until one day, Little People’s Workshop opened their doors.

It was there that I took my first steps as my teachers were determined to see me walk before graduation. Upon graduation, the challenge of finding a primary school began. My parents found hope at the Maraval Roman Catholic Primary School.

The years at primary school opened my eyes to the plight of disabled persons in Trinidad and Tobago. Even though I felt as if I was typical and I could have done anything I wanted, I was always looked upon as the child with the limp and was held back from many activities offered.

At age 8, I was referred to a child psychologist who classified me as a slow learner after only a few minutes of playing with building blocks and being tested on a few math questions. I went to Eshe’s Learning Centre where I was kept back academically, doing the work of an infant, at the age of 8 and 9 years.

But my slow writing was the very fact which prompted the diagnosis of being a slow learner. After one year, I insisted that I be returned to my previous school. At age 12 I sat the Secondary Entrance Assessment, graduated as valedictorian, best overall student and passed for my first school of choice Holy Name Convent.

Holy Name Convent was a safe haven.

I was no longer viewed as the child with the limp but the child that had untouched potential. The Principal at that time, Mrs. Aqui, along with her staff ensured that I was given the same opportunity that any student would.

Here I was allowed to be myself. If I wanted to march for sports day, I marched. If there was a cricket game on the back courts, I was certainly present waiting with a cricket bat in my hand. I even cooked my first meal in the Holy Name’s Food and Nutrition room.

Activities I thought I would never be able to do due to the lack of coordination, Holy Name Convent made possible. They were my extended family. A chair lift was installed to take me up the stairs and I had a student aide to help me with writing and lab work since my hands trembled constantly.

Salome Shammai Jordan

Salome Shammai Jordan

Presently, I am pursuing my B.Sc. in Biochemistry and Chemistry at The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine. Fortunately my classes have been placed on the ground floor. My handwriting is still illegible and slow but with the help of a recorder and a scribe to write my exams I have been successful thus far.

I have learnt to perform lab work on my own. It was difficult at first but with persistence, I can complete an entire lab without breaking any equipment or spilling any chemicals. Additionally, I am currently employed at the Student Life and Development Department at UWI.

In October 2018, I was awarded a scholarship to continue my studies. I started University not knowing if I would finish because of financial issues. My dad and I would travel to get to The UWI. This required three forms on transportation including climbing stairs at City Gate to travel on the Priority Bus Route but here I am, in my final semester of University.

I did not get here on my own. I will forever be grateful to my both parents. They made extreme sacrifices to allow me to reach this far. It pains me to know that both of my parents are ill and every day I live, I strive to make them proud. They have always believed in me and supported me in all my endeavors even though we were never a wealthy family. I am their only child.

Being disabled does not and should not mean a death sentence. So why is it that we persons with disabilities constantly have to be fighting in this country for the basic rights of an education? I hope that one day ALL disabled persons get the same opportunities as anyone else without a fight and without having to prove anything to anyone but for now we will fight continuously to enjoy every day we live.

Sponsoored by Dale McLeod, Jacqueline Scott, Starlite Collection, Sacha Makeup, JB Fernandez Memorial Trust II.