HAVING had to drop out of secondary school for two years because of the death of his father and dire economic circumstances facing his family, it was a particularly proud moment for 18-year-old Malachi Alexander on Friday when he was among the students awarded in the inaugural Guyana-China Friendship Youth Leadership Development Award competition.
The Berbice Educational Institute student want others to know that it does not end, even if you have to leave school.
“It’s never too late to keep trying. You could be at your lowest point in life, there will always be someone there to bring you back up,” he commented in a sit down with the Sunday Chronicle moments after he had collected his award.
He shares the moment with his mentor and teacher, Osafa Dos Santos, who had played a pivotal role in encouraging him to be part of the project which sought to develop leadership skills in students through the execution of a community project, critique of a work of art and participation in a sport activity.
Alexander was among 11 students who were awarded US$1,000, a trophy and a token from the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China, which sponsored the programme. For his community project, Alexander spearheaded the rehabilitation of a poultry facility at his school.
“Winning this award is very nice because it was hard and challenging getting stuff together, doing the fitness challenge and those things. It’s leading me to become a leader in the community, because you never know what can happen in the future,” he said.
A former student of the Christianburg Wismar Secondary School, Alexander dropped out of school in Grade 9, shortly after his father died of liver cancer in 2010, but thanks to the support of family members and continuous encouragement from his mother, he would be back in school at the Berbice Educational Institute in 2018.
However, the years were tough on his mother as she was left to raise him and his three other siblings.
“After my dad passed, we would be moving from different places, because we didn’t have anywhere to stay. It was very hard because everything was on my mom, and we weren’t getting help, so I dropped out of school in Form Three when I was in Linden,” Alexander recalled.
Very much an industrious young man, Alexander shared his story of having spent his time out of school doing whatever he could to also help assist his mother and contribute to the household.
“I did a lot. I used to sell plantain chips, clothes, ride around and sell greens, sell popcorn.”
But understanding education to be the doorway out of any economic hardship, his mother was always hopeful to see him back in school.
“Most of the time it is just me and my mom, and my little sister and finances were always hard, but my mom would always be ‘Malachi go back to school’, she used to even cry for me to go back to school. So I decided to go with it,” he said.
He got his break when he went to visit some family members in Berbice, and eventually found a new home, and was able to get registered back into school.
But being at the age of 16, a time when most students usually leave school and having to restart school from Grade 8, meant Alexander would face an uphill journey, but he would not let the challenges of the circumstances deter him.
He commended the teachers of his school for making it a welcoming environment for him. Today, he is currently in Grade 11 preparing to write seven subjects at the 2022 Caribbean Education Secondary Certificate (CSEC), and is aspiring to be a heavy-duty mechanic operator.
“It was a difficult thing. After dropping out of school, getting back into school was quite tough. But I started back at Second Form [Grade 8] and moved up, moved up to Fifth Form [Grade11]. Most of the teachers they looked up at me as the eldest and said, ‘you have to be the person leading the children.’ The teachers were fantastic,” he recalled.
And lead he did, as evidenced by his win in the Youth Leadership Development competition.
It was through his school and with the encouragement of Dos Santos that Alexander entered the Youth Leadership competition, which was launched in March. He would prevail as the winner for Region Six (East Berbice-Corentyne ), and be awarded along with the 10 other students on Friday.
Dos Santos shares that he has always been impressed by Alexander’s level of discipline and mannerisms.
“He reminded me a lot of me. Attitude, being respectful and being able to carry himself in a way that others respect him. I didn’t know he was facing all of these challenges when I first met him. It wasn’t until after when we took some pictures and he was like, ‘you resemble my dad’, then he showed me a picture and at a glance, I said this was some serious coincidence and so we bonded from then,” Dos Santos shared.
He is happy that he is able to be there and play a father-figure’s role in the life of Alexander.
“I would always keep close contact with him. When you see me, you see him.”
Alexander believes his win in the award is testament to the ability of anyone to turn around their circumstances, no matter how bad things get, as that is what he has been able to do.
An agriculture student himself, Alexander said he was motivated to fix up the poultry facility because he understands the benefit that it would bring to the school and the students. Notwithstanding having a hard time with donations for the project, Alexander was determined to see it to completion.
Now that he has won, Alexander shares that he is hopeful to take some of the proceeds from his win to open his own poultry farm and perhaps expand it, as farming is also one of his passions.