Braving the odds to excel amid a pandemic
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Dominique Clarke
Dominique Clarke

By Rehana Ahamad

DESPITE all the disasters that characterise 2020, it was a year that uncovered the genuine resilience and incredible bravery of many people, especially Guyanese, and more particularly those who were in the midst of various academic pursuits when the coronavirus pandemic hit. Whether it was the National Grade Six Assessment (NGSA), the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) or various tertiary programmes, Guyanese have weathered the storm to victory.

Sursattie Bholaramsingh

There are many persons such as Sursatie Bholaramsingh, who lost her job, and battled depression during her pursuit of her Master of Laws (LLM). Because of the pandemic and all the violence that surrounded our six-month-long General and Regional Elections, many suffered losses of income and closure of their businesses.
“I could not afford basic things. My family’s income reduced, but the cost for everything else remained the same: The light bills, water, Internet, university fees, all remained the same,” Bholaramsingh told the Guyana Chronicle.
Bholaramsingh’s husband, who has his own company, was also faced with challenges of reduced profits and contracts. “This whole thing was depressing for me,” Bholaramsingh said.

She recalled being faced with a heartrending decision, which resulted in her putting a pause on her children’s education. “I had to stop my kids from pursuing their studies, and that really broke my heart,” the woman said.
Bholaramsingh said her family’s finances, coupled with the local elections drama, and the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, had taken a significant toll on her mental health.

“I refused to go out or meet or talk to friends and family, because of how I felt; depression is real,” she asserted.
Notwithstanding the many challenges, Bholaramsingh continued her studies, which were already in progress. She recently completed her LLM (Oil and Gas) with a distinction at School of the Nations Incorporated.
“I was over the moon,” Bholaramsingh said, explaining that her journey to a distinction was no easy task. She explained that she was forced to self-study via the Internet.

“I could not understand the Online studies half of the time,” Bholaramsingh noted. She said that her challenges were further compounded by poor Internet connections, and in many instances, the usual doses of blackout.
“I took the textbooks, and also did extensive reading with articles I downloaded and printed when I did have some Internet, but even so, the printing was still quite costly,” Bholaramsingh related.

Despite having an LLM, along with a Master of Business Administration and a Degree in Accounting, the state of the world was such that Bholaramsingh was unable to secure a job. As it is, she remains unemployed.
“With more than 20 years’ experiences, it is my desire to work with the Oil-and-Gas Industry, but nothing has been panning out,” she lamented.

The woman explained that enabling her children to continue their studies is presently her major focus. “…And that is taking an arm and a leg from me,” Bholaramsingh posited.
Even with all the hurdles to complete her LLM, Bholaramsingh said that she remains committed to pursuing her doctorate. “Education is important,” she maintained.


Education, for 22-year-old Dominique Clarke takes the same level of importance. In 2020, she had been pursuing a Bachelor of Laws Degree at the University of London, through Nations University’s School of Law, amid great challenges, the most significant being the fact that she was classed as an essential worker, and was therefore forced to work on rotation during the height of the pandemic. “It affected my study timetable severely,” Clarke related.

As per her normal routine, Clarke said that she worked 08:00hrs to 16:00hrs, after which she would attend classes from 17:00hrs to 19:00hrs. Clarke explained that she would then schedule in her nap time from 21:00hrs to midnight; she would then wake up and resume study from 01:00hrs to 05:00hrs.
As the staff rotations kicked in, Clarke said her schedule went haywire. Things got even worse, as exam time approached.

“I had taken my annual leave for exam preparations in April, only to have the exams pushed to July,” the young woman related.

Instead of sulking over the changes, Clarke said she decided to use her time wisely, and study even harder. But the exams suffered even more delays, owing to the pandemic.
“The second delay of exams started to take a toll on me mentally; I was feeling drained, and at my wits end,” she noted.
Due to her family’s financial challenges, Clarke said that she was forced to self-study. “I was a bit disappointed, as I wanted to graduate with Upper Second-Class Honours, but I was awarded Lower Second- Class Honours,” she noted.

Clarke said that even though she wasn’t too keen on experiencing the many challenges that came her way in 2020, she values the lessons it taught her.

“I am much more tenacious and resilient. As I’m preparing to commence my Master’s Degree in International Business Law at the University of Bedfordshire through Nations University, I am positive that whatever is thrown my way, no matter the workload, I am capable of excelling,” an optimistic Clarke maintained.


Tonesia Jacobis

Similarly, for young Tonesia Jacobis of Linden, Region 10 (Upper Demerara-Berbice), the coronavirus and all the events of 2020 have aided her growth as a more resilient person. At the height of the pandemic-inspired lockdowns and strict curfews, the 18-year-old was preparing for what would be one of the biggest examinations of her life. The Mackenzie High School student was preparing to sit the 2020 Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE).

“I had to adjust to school being Online,” Jacobis said. She highlighted her major challenge was having to self-study, while learning and adopting time-management skills.

“This posed a major deterrent to me,” the teenager said.
Jacobis said that lockdowns and curfew had no social impacts on her life, since she had always been an introvert at heart.

“I’m used to being home, then school, so the COVID social distancing, curfew and quarantines were not that drastic for me,” she posited.

The young student said that even though she did not achieve her desired results, 2020 has taught her to be content and happy with being alive, and being afforded the opportunity to continue her studies. Jacobis, in 2019, was a top student of Mackenzie High School, copping nine Grade Ones, and two Grade Twos.

“For CAPE, I wrote four subjects: In Economics, I got a Grade Two; Management of Business, I got a Grade Four, and Communication Studies, a Grade Three. In Accounting, I got no grade; something that CXC (the Caribbean Examination Council) is yet to correct,” Jacobis said.

She noted that despite all that 2020 entailed, she remains thankful.
“In some way, I would say my biggest lesson of 2020 is taking simple things for granted that now you realise are really big deals,” the youngster said.

She noted that the past year has inspired her to re-evaluate the things that are important.
“… And notice the things that are not, and prioritise my life better, and never give up and keep moving forward,” an optimistic Jacobis said.

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