From teen mom to UG graduate
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UG graduate Onecia Bacchus
UG graduate Onecia Bacchus

–mother of two overcomes challenges to become role model for daughters

WHEN 26-year-old Onecia Bacchus got pregnant at just 16, while still at school, she faced a lot of challenges in continuing her academic pursuits, but she rose above it to obtain an Associate Degree in Social Work, with distinction, from the University of Guyana.

Bacchus will be among the over 2,200 UG students who will be graduating next month, and, like many others, she is sharing her story of achievement through trials in the hope of encouraging others not to give up.

“No matter the challenges life throws at you, never let them keep you down; always remember that you can rise above any situation. No position is permanent; always be prepared for upward mobility,” Bacchus said during an interview with the Sunday Chronicle.

Currently a Constable in the Guyana Police Force (GPF), Bacchus is now looking forward to continuing her studies for a Bachelor of Social Science in Social Work, and also hopes to do her master’s in psychology.

Having risen above her own challenges with teenage pregnancy, Bacchus particularly hopes to be a role model to other young women who may find themselves becoming teenage mothers, or face other socioeconomic challenges, and perhaps feel like they cannot do much with their lives.

“I hope one day to become a guidance counselor for teenagers, and work with organisations to eradicate teenage pregnancy. To teen mothers, I say, always remember that you can do it, even if you think that you can’t; nothing is impossible.

“Find a job; it doesn’t matter where you start. My first job was packing shelves at a supermarket;then I went on to Qualfon,” the former Mahaicony Secondary student shared.

Growing up in Mahaicony with relatives, due to her parents being overseas took a toll on Bacchus, who took it even harder when her parents divorced. She was just 14 years old.

At age 16, while in Grade 11, and in the middle of preparing to write her Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) subjects, Bacchus became pregnant. Almost immediately, she began to feel the brunt of condescension from others, which led her to dropping out of school, and not wanting to write CSEC.

A STAR ATHLETE
At the time, Bacchus was a star athlete as a middle and long distance runner, and did well academically. Suffice to say, she felt the weight of the disappointment.

“I can still remember the look of disdain on the faces of the market vendors whenever I was passing on my bicycle. I was laughed at by some of my colleagues, which forced me to stop attending school. So, CXC time I was at home for an entire term,” Bacchus explained.

Onecia Bacchus with her two daughters

Notwithstanding her own family also feeling disappointed at first, they would eventually come around, and rally and encourage her not to give up on her education. It would be a phone call from her dad on the day she had to write her first CSEC subject that would push her to turn up for the exam.

“He said, ‘Your belly is already on you; nothing that those people say about you can remove it. Hold your head high, my daughter; go and do your best,’” she shared.

With those words, she would go on to write and pass six subjects at CSEC, with four Grade Twos, and two Grades Threes. And soon after, she would give birth to her daughter.

But with a daughter to take care of, Bacchus fiercely felt the need to ensure she became independent, and was passionate about providing for herself, independently. This became all the more important to her after she ended the relationship with her daughter’s father.

“I wanted to be independent; I knew I was smart, and I wanted to do something for myself,” she said.

She worked several jobs before joining the Police Force in 2016, and is now stationed at the Felix Austin College. In 2019, Bacchus would also go on to graduate as valedictorian from the Guyana Learning Institute with a Certificate in Supervisory Management. She is also trained in floral arrangement, through a course at the Carnegie School of Home Economics.

Through her own experience of dealing with teenage pregnancy, and having also spent a year working at the Sophia Juvenile Holding facility, Bacchus would become passionate about studying social work.

With the encouragement of her husband, Bacchus applied, and was accepted, to UG in 2019. But even this was not without its challenges.

Bacchus was one month pregnant when she started her programme, and so, was once again faced with the challenge of studying and dealing with the struggles of a pregnancy.

“I would be traversing back and forth in public transportation, dealing with morning sickness, having to rush to the washroom in between classes, falling asleep during late night classes, standing in front of the class with my eight months full-size tummy doing my presentation,” Bacchus shared.

But already one not to let challenges overcome her, Bacchus persevered to not only complete her programme, but to end it with a Distinction, achieving her aim of ensuring that she is also a good example to her own daughters.

“I really wanted to study and make myself a role model for them, and ensure that they don’t fall into the kind of things like I did.”

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