I survived hunger – St Thomas youth rises from coffee picker to degree holder

The degree he holds in Social Work belies the hunger and other struggles that once pushed him into picking coffee, selling patties at a Tastee restaurant, and charging his peers to do their assignments.

“I felt as if there was no hope for me,” said Damion Doyley, a native of Roselle, St Thomas.

He told The Beacon that the first sign of misery emerged when his parents’ love affair went up in flames. “I lived with both parents until I was nine years old when they separated. Because of the separation, all the burden was left on my mother, November Brown.”

Doyley struggled through White Horses Primary, but he was always present because the school was walking distance away from him home.

St Thomas Technical High, however, was a big difference.

“I attended high school irregularly and that affected my growth,” said the 30-year-old. “My mother was a domestic helper; she couldn’t afford to pay my school fee and because of that I was not given rental books.”

Damion Doyley

Doyley, who spent countless hours reading textbooks at Morant Bay Parish Library, graduated from high school with seven CXC subjects.

That superb academic  performance did not prevent him from slipping into protracted unemployment and deeper into poverty.

“I endured a lot of hunger,” Doyley told The Beacon.

He left St Thomas to work with a relative in Flamstead, St Andrew.

“I picked coffee on a farm and, although I hated it, I did it to my best,” he explained. “I had to mount some hillsides like a soldier, and the daily work hours were long. I only got $700 per day for my pay. There and then, I knew that I needed to get out of poverty, and the only way was education.”

The frustrated youngster, after spending eight months on the coffee farm, returned to St Thomas.

He successfully applied to St Joseph’s Teachers College in 2011, but later aborted that plan due to financial problems.

Doyley returned to work; this time at a Tastee patty shop in Morant Bay, St Thomas.

“My former teachers would always encourage me not to be complacent in the patty shop because I have the ability to pursue tertiary education,” he recalled, adding: “Thanks to Tastee for giving me that job because, although the salary was small, it hindered me from being hungry.”

Doyley, in 2013, applied again to attend St Joseph’s Teachers College. He was accepted again, but had to scrap that plan due to the same old reason – financial challenges.

“I remember crying openly; I was overwhelmed with emotions,” the youngster said.

A year later, he applied to attend Northern Caribbean University (NCU) and was accepted. “I still didn’t have any money, but, by that time, my determination to succeed was stronger than my fear of failing. I told myself I had to make it; I had to start,” Doyley further told The Beacon.

He finished his first and second years at NCU on the honour roll.

“There were days when I couldn’t attend classes because I did not have any money or anyone to help me,” he explained. “I started helping students from NCU and other institutions with their assignments and projects for money. That was my little hustling and it worked for me.”

Doyley, who eventually received grants at NCU on eight occasions, noted that there were people who also helped him along the way – some by giving mere advice that uplifted the spirits.

Doyley, now a post-university job hunter, graduated from NCU with a Bachelor’s of Social Work degree on August 12 this year.

“If I could have done it, anyone else can,” he declared.

“Do not pray for an easy life; pray for strength to endure a difficult one. Be determined and persistent because, despite your challenges, your reward will be worth it,” Doyley further advised.

By Horace Mills, Journalist


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