Shearine Hall, now a teacher in Japan, spent her early years living in the streets of Spanish Town, St. Catherine, along with her mother and a sister who is a year older than her.
“I remember sleeping in bushes, abandoned buildings, and even a fowl coop at one point,” she told The Beacon.
“We would beg people for money and eat out of garbage bins when we got really hungry. I remember being hungry all the time.”
Hall said her mother, Lorna Wright, who is originally from Westmoreland, struggled with a serious mental disorder known as Schizophrenia.
She explained: “My mother wasn’t always schizophrenic, but she couldn’t handle the mental trauma of losing my older sisters. It pushed her over the edge. She spent a lot of time looking for my older sisters, whose father took them and ran away without telling her.”
Hall said her late father did the opposite, which was to leave her struggling mom with two children – including her.
“My father was just a person who took advantage of my mother’s situation and left her with two children that he did not care about,” Hall added.
She was about six years old when she and her sister became wards of the State.
She recalled: “We were placed at a ‘place of safety’ in Kingston… At that home, they would call us ‘the mad sisters’ and treat us badly because of our mother’s situation. On the streets of Jamaica, I suffered from homelessness and starvation. But, at the home, we suffered from emotional, verbal, and physical abuse.
“I hated the home, but they fed us. I had a bed to sleep in and I went to public school for the first time at eight years old. I did very well in school, so I liked that. My sister was so traumatized that she stopped speaking unless she was talking to me directly, and I would then have to speak on her behalf,” Hall said.
She noted that her life changed for the better two years later when she, along with her sister, was transferred to another children’s home – The Salvation Army Hanbury Home for Children, located in Manchester.
Hall said: “I had a lot of difficult experiences growing up there [in Manchester], but I was also given the opportunity of gaining an education, which is one of the best avenue for breaking the cycle of poverty. It was a Christian home operated by the Salvation Army, so being teased about my mother or treated differently was not something that was condoned there.”
Hall noted that, when she became 18 years old, she, like all other wards of the State who had reached the age of adulthood, would have been put out of children’s homes to fend for themselves. She was bewildered.
Hall got a breakthrough of sorts – an opportunity to work at the children’s home, considering that she was very helpful to staff and other children while she was a ward there.
“I became a housemother at 18, taking care of 25 other kids,” she recalled, adding that the home eventually sent her to the University of the West Indies to pursue a course in social services.
Hall subsequently enrolled at Northern Caribbean University (NCU), acting on the advice of then college student Amber Cook, who is from the United States.
Cook was visiting the children’s home in Manchester when she first met Hall.
“[Cook] saw potential in me; she saw that I was intelligent and would do well if given the chance. She started encouraging and motivating me,” Hall said. “For the first time in my life, I started believing that I was not going to be another statistic of children from State care getting pregnant soon after they turn 18 and continuing the cycle of poverty.”
Hall further stated that Cook, along with another friend from the United States, helped to cover her university expenses. She also made good use of the relatively small funds she was earning at the children’s home.
“There were times in my final year [in university] when I didn’t have money for food, and would just drink water or try to find fruit to eat,” Hall noted. “I had days when I would literally walk home from the university because I didn’t have taxi fare. In spite of these trials, God has been good to me.”
In 2013, Hall graduated from NCU with a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work.
She told The Beacon that she later spent a year seeking employment as a social worker, but she found none.
“After growing up how I did, I felt I had a lot of insight and passion for social work and helping kids who are in State care. But this dream was not to be fulfilled,” Hall said.
After volunteering as a social worker in Jamaica for some time, Hall left her native land to teach English in Colombia, where she worked for five years.
Her journey later took her to Japan, where she is a teacher. “In addition to working as a teacher, I’m also currently doing a Master’s degree in Advanced Education,” Hall disclosed.
Her mother is still battling mental illness, and the sister with whom she was raised is now married and working in the United States in the tourism sector.
Hall told The Beacon that she hopes to eventually return to Jamaica to help improve awareness of mental health issues and to contribute as a social worker.
“A lot of people are not sensitized to show empathy and compassion for people who suffer from mental illnesses. That is something I would like to do my part to change,” she said. “I still have a passion for social work, and I hope that one day Jamaica and the various social work entities will give me a chance to serve my country.”
Hall, who is a Christian, said she also wants to be an inspiration especially to wards of the State.
“I want kids in State care to know that, when your family forsakes you, or if they are not able to care for you, God will always be there for you. He will send the right people in your life to help and encourage you,” Hall further said.
By Horace Mills, Journalist
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