Meet Makeda Bawn, 20 yrs old.
I am the old aged girl without wrinkles and this is my story. I remember holding my mother’s hand in the hospital as I struggled to breathe; I felt like I was drowning in air. My lungs felt small and my chest tightened. Darkness separated us after I closed my eyes. I was nineteen years old when I experienced severe chronic attack. It creeped on me like a thief in the night, and I felt a part of me died. My mother cried for days; she had already lost four sons and she was not ready to lose her only daughter. I am determined to be somebody inspirational before I take my last breath. I was born a premature baby and suffered severe asthma attacks while growing up, I weighed 1lb 6oz on the 8th of April 1996 at the Spanish Town hospital in St Catherine.
I was diagnosed with Lumbar Lordosis at 14 years of age in 2010 after my parents and I were involved in a car accident. A mini pick-up truck slammed into the back of my father’s car and I took a flight that would affect me later on in life. I was diagnosed with Degenerative Disc Disease in 2015. Degenerative Disc Disease is a condition where the discs lose their water content, they lose their height, bringing the vertebrae closer together. As a result, the nerve openings in the spine become narrower therefore the disc does not absorb the shocks as well especially when you are walking or doing any other physical activity. Persons who have been diagnosed with this condition are normally in their senior years. For this reason, I feel like an old aged girl without wrinkles. On occasions, I feel like a 140 pound baby is sitting on my chest and the bones in my spines are breaking continuously while I am awake and my body starving me from happiness.
My ailments made me scared especially knowing that I need surgery to save me, I am confused and doubtful because I never felt normal. Pain made me numb and I often had nightmares of being buried in a hospital gown with amputated legs; the image of not being able to walk tormented me for 365 days and counting. My world ceased and I became this child in a womb of despair clothed in a placenta of thorns. Depression consumed me and I endure so much. My back, legs, and neck pained me every day, and I had headaches and episodes of vomiting. Everything hurt so much. Simple things such as walking, talking, sleeping is difficult for me. I lost friends because they did not want to be around a “sick person”. Every day I wanted to rip the hair on my head out. This illness brings back memories of primary school where I went through a period of bullying from my peers for years. Standing out at the time in primary school seemed like something queer. DDD is my bully and I have to face it every minute. But, being a child from a home with two unemployed parents, the struggles made me hungrier for success because nobody knew when we were starving and I wanted my mom and dad to enjoy a luxurious life.
Throughout my time in high school, I was involved in a lot of extracurricular activities. I was President of the Speech and Drama club; Vice President for Photography Club; a Youth Mentor; a member of the Inter-school Christian Fellowship and Debate club. I inspired the establishment of a writing club at my high school for students with creative minds. My literature teacher, Miss Edwards, was impressed with my eccentric way of words and she grew extremely fond of my poems. I was encouraged to showcase my talent by submitting my poetic pieces to the Jamaica gleaner. I was successful and the gleaner published three of my poems. My favorite piece was “Hidden Truth”.
My poetry speaks to the heart and encompasses ideologies of socialist feminism. I became a fan of photography and developed a love for advocacy. I gained experience in advocating through photography for positive changes after enrolling in the Jamaica National Resolution project. The Jamaica National Resolution Project was established to teach youth in rural high schools about the Art of Photography. It was a great platform to portray my world through the lens of a camera.
In 2014, I was awarded for Best Body Image for my photograph entitled; “Pure, Her Most Prominent Possession”. My photographs were on exhibition in the Departure Pier in both Norman Manley and Sangsters International airport. My photographs were also on exhibition at the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre in London, United Kingdom. I also got the opportunity to cover events such as: the annual Rebel Salute in Jamaica. This project had a profound impact on my life.
After graduating from high school my life changed for the better and worst. I took part in a videography workshop hosted by one of Jamaica’s well known full- service television and multi-media production company called Phase 3 Production. I developed skills for the film industry and after graduating from the program, I was given the opportunity to write, direct and produce a short film entitled, Forgotten Voices. In 2016, I was featured in the Social Impact section of the Jamaica Gleaner Blogs, in an article entitled; “A Conversation on the Move: Talking Media and Ackee Walk with Makeda Bawn.
In university, I became doubtful about my career path; no one would want to employ a sick person that have to get help going to the bathroom. School life is a real struggle especially when I have to go through all of this not to mention the financial issues. However; I am sure that whatever I chose to become I would motivate and inspire persons from all walks of life. I love children and even though doctors recommend me not to give birth, I will help children in need. It makes me sad because I will never know what it feels like to give birth naturally to a beautiful miracle. I always wanted to be a pediatrician, to help children in the health care sector. But, I could never fall in love with science but physics was always a mystery to me and I appreciated the knowledge. I became an actress in Jamaica’s first puppet series called Ackee Walk. This television series was established to teach children about their rights and responsibilities. Although I was not wearing a white doctor coat on set, it’s a joy to me to know that I am helping to educate children.
What makes me keep going? Is a question I have often been asked from persons who have met me. I keep going because I cannot go a day without thinking about inspiring my family, friends and strangers. And I believe that I was born for a purpose. My success dreams cannot happen out of the blue, I have to work for it. Legends are not super humans, they are normal beings who never gave up and no one will remember someone who never tried in life. I have to keep balance on my bicycle because I have to keep moving. Time is precious and short, for my time to be valuable on earth I have to believe that I can survive. Everything that I have accomplished so far has been a rugged journey for me. I suffer from illnesses but I am determined to make the best out of life. I pledge to use my skills and expertise to the best of my abilities to escape poverty. My personal and professional experiences have equipped me with passion, commitment and competency to succeed after my tertiary education.
It's funny how I can easily write about the stories of others but as it pertains to me, I feel hesitant - not in terms of unwillingness but hesitant in terms of what should I say? My name is Kenloy Smith and for the 18 years that I have lived, my journey has had some #topshelf moments and some not so top-shelf moments.
I am a Christian, and also a nurturing individual. I think I'm one of the few guys who tried to save a frog from being squashed by vehicles simply because I hate seeing pain, no matter how small or how great. At first I didn't like myself because of how "un-cool" everyone else made me feel. Coming from a church family where manners and happiness is a norm and, having both parents present and just being spoiled by love - I had (and still have) a very optimistic approach to life and school in general. However our society seems to shun that in males.
All of my strengths seem useless when compared to the expected reality or perception of "MEN". I'm emotionally stronger, more in tune with nature, prefer female company, prefer a pet over a vehicle, etc. But it seemed to me growing up that you had to be forceful, loud, demanding, dominant, egotistical and prideful to “BE A MAN”.
I guess Jamaica on a whole, has this stigma against guys. I've seen parents raise their male child "rougher" or "with less care" than their female children. That shouldn't be the case because not everyone is the same. There are girls out there who aren't as "girly-girly" out there in the world, and they are treated fine or with less disrespect, but you look at a guy who is gentler and is effeminate and immediately there's a riot.
I struggled for so many years, TRYING to be a "MAN" that in the midst of all the confusion, I questioned what a “MAN?” is. I had to hide my goals and interests in the presence of these guys because they wouldn’t think it was "straight". Dealing with that by myself was my worst struggle. I felt unloved, hurt, lonely, unwanted and depressed inside. I remember one day while I was inside my house alone I heard cheers and laughter, and when I peeped through the window there was this group of guys just playing football. I watched them for minutes like a caged bird looking at those in the open. "Why can't I be like them?"
In my senior years of high school, I learned that I am special and just as important as everyone else. I've made some friends who helped me so much, just by even talking to me or walking with me in public. It was almost like there were two different sides of society, the one I knew was only the negative side, but there’s the positive side, the educated, the ones who have fears but face them or equip themselves to handle them, the ones who knew the different types of LOVE, the ones who cared about emotions, goals, aspirations and most importantly the ones who didn't care about others’ opinion once they knew who they were and that they have a strong foundation.
That's my vision for Jamaica, that we have more of those persons in society who learn the essence of words like "TOLERANCE, ACCEPTANCE, PATIENCE, LOVE, TRUTH, OPTIONS and UNITY." If we are "Out of Many One People" then we need to cater to the different needs of everyone rather than trying to force ideals on them. Yes! Rules are important and without some level of ideas and force, people will stray and do whatever they want but ultimately; just like God, let's give our youth FREE-WILL. Of course you are going to teach them bad from good but leave them up to their own self-respect and consciousness. I wish that no one or no child has to argue and say that "You made me to this! I was so unhappy! etc".
I could have been told "You're gay, so just be yourself." but that just didn't feel right to me, my personality isn’t sexual, (and that's what everyone or most saw it as,) but being spiritually inclined. And then meeting males (MY DAD for e.g) who shows me love and acceptance (not saying that I don't get dirty, or perform my duties as a male but that he knows that I am better at other things) and then friends and fans who supported me and just looking myself in the mirror and saying that "I love you!" You are Handsome! You are Special" made everything tranquil.
In closing, as I move from Rural to Urban and as I sit around this laptop at U.W.I as a freshman / freshers, I realize the importance of a solid foundation. Things will get shaky but if you are truly rooted and grounded (can't over emphasize the importance of spirituality) then you'll be great. Talk up Yout is important because "TALKING UP" allows you to release stress, to express yourself, to be heard and most importantly to be responded to. After meeting this team (Season 6) I realized how blessed I was and how my problems were not rare. But if you never try, you'll never know. If we want to reach that 2030 goal then "TALKING UP!” And “TALKING AGAINST!” negative and unproductive behaviors must be a rule. Don't sweep it under the broom! EXPOSE IT! BRING IT TO THE LIGHT! I can only imagine the youths who WISHED they had our privileges, those who died, and those who suffer from rape, drug abuse, mental problems, and even those who just want to feel loved. That's why I am being the best me, so that when others hear my story it can inspire positive change and hope.
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Youth, ages 14 - 26, from all over the world, talking up. #TalkUpYout