A Jamaican woman, who triumphed over poverty, child sexual abuse, homeless and racism, has reached dizzy heights in commerce in the city of Nottingham, England.
Her home care services empire currently pays 85 employees in Nottingham, and will swing open its Jamaican doors in December.
“Everything that was set against me, God has truly turned it around for my good,” said Andrene Lewis Longwe.
“My experience has taught me that life is like climbing a ladder. If you give up the first [rung], how will you know if you would get to the top?”
Andrene’s first rung was the poverty in which she was born and raised – along with her five male siblings, in a two-bedroom house at Christian Pen in Gregory Park, St. Catherine.
Amid poverty, sexual abuse lingered.
“As long as I can remember, from about eight years old, I was being abused by the very people who were supposed to look after me,” Andrene lamented.
“It took me a long time to heal, but I started talking about it openly and understanding that I am a victor; not a victim.”
By age 16, Andrene became a mother.
“That was a devastating period in my life,” she recalled, adding: “I ended up working very early; I ended up waiting tables.”
Seeking a meaningful comeback, the young mother enrolled at the Women’s Centre of Jamaica Foundation.
She subsequently returned to the formal education system – attending Kingston High School, formerly Kingston Senior School.
Andrene, who is also a past student of Gregory Park Primary School, pursued secretarial studies at Stony Hill HEART Academy.
She later became employed to the Ministry of Labour. “I guess that’s where my life started to change – to turn around,” she told The Beacon.
A big opportunity to travel came in 2002.
Andrene, who was almost 30 years old at the time, left Jamaica for England.
After landing, she realized that she was two weeks pregnant with her second child.
“I went through another perilous time in England,” she said. “When you have to fight Immigration – and not having a family here; that was a period of turmoil.”
Andrene, at one point, sunk into homelessness after being evicted from an apartment under what she considers to be unfair circumstances.
“I came to England and I was homeless,” she noted. “I remember my kids went to school with holes in their shoes right here in England.”
An epitome of resilience, Andrene fought back.
She worked three jobs in England – including at a cafe, where she scrubbed pots and pans.
She also bolstered her credentials at two colleges in the United Kingdom, amassing vocational qualifications up to Level 5.
Andrene’s longest employment stint was with an agency offering health and social care services.
Her passion for that industry is not far-fetched, considering that, while she was living in Jamaica, she spent 21 years ‘looking after’ her late grandmother Rebecca Cornwall.
Andrene eventually became frustrated with the way traditional care services were being delivered.
She explained: “I figured that care and support services should put customers in control of what they are receiving while being creative about it.”
She had found the perfect pitch to disrupt the status quo.
In 2009, Andrene launched her company – Break Barriers. In the following year, the organization offered its first care service. In 2010, Andrene also wedded Malawian native Nelson Longwe.
She noted: “In the year when everybody was saying [global] recession, I packed my job up and started my own business. Now that everybody is saying COVID-19, I went to Jamaica and I am launching a business.”
The Jamaican business – Break Barriers Caring Hands, will formally commence operation on December 10.
Andrene is bringing to her native land, the top-notch service for which her empire is revered in the city of Nottingham.
She told The Beacon that the authorities in England have ranked her company ‘outstanding’ – the highest of the three industry ranks.
That feat did not come easily.
Andrene, during her company’s tenth anniversary celebration in June 2020, noted her herculean fight to prove herself worthy of being considered a successful black businesswoman.
“I do not call myself lucky; I call myself blessed,” she declared.
“I fought hard, but today I can say thanks be to God I run my own business. A city that I couldn’t turn to for support, I now employ up to 85 people in that city. Now, I run my own empire; I rule my own empire; I do what I want.”
By Horace Mills, Journalist
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