Young women excelling despite physical challenges

As they watched their granddaughter Tijuanna Walker collect multiple awards at the Abilities Foundation (AF) graduation ceremony on Thursday, Constance and Terrence Tucker were overcome with joy.

Walker, 19, has cerebral palsy, and her grandparents have been her primary caregivers since she was a child.

“I am on top of the world and very proud to see that she has come this far,” said Constance. Walker has been attending the institution for two years, and, according to her guardians, it has aided to her development.

“She is very determined. It was not an easy road, but with the help of God we were able to make it,” Constance said proudly. “It was not easy but she’s always been loved by people to the point of them calling her ‘Purpose’.” Teary-eyed, she gave a glimpse of Walker’s upbringing.

“Her father gave her to me when she was like probably nine months. So actually, she spent less than a year with her parents. So all her growing up years is with me and my husband. We have had her permanently since she was four years old.”

Walker, despite having difficulty speaking, received multiple awards, including the Spirit of Ability award which highlights her resilience to achieve. The dedicated grandparents, who currently live in St Catherine, stated that one of their biggest challenges was to travel with Walker to the AF in St Andrew. But things became easier because travel was provided through the school for her every Monday morning. Constance said her granddaughter has plans to do some writing.

“She wants to write about the disability community among other things but it comes down what she’s really wants to do,” she said.

Valedictorian of the class, Anna-Kay Gibson, 19, was diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis, which affects her ability to move her joints in 2019, and she lost her father, who was her biggest support system, in 2020. She then became ward of the state.

“I’m originally from Trelawny, but I’m actually in state care in Kingston at the moment,” she said. September coming makes four years. My dad died and I didn’t have anyone else to live with. My brothers reside in England and my mother, she didn’t have any household that was particularly for disabled persons.”

Despite her mother not being able to attend the graduation due to work commitments, Gibson said she was still feeling elated and grateful for what she has achieved.

“I got the Director’s Award and the Silver Outstanding Award for English language, Gold Medal Award for data operations, and Gold Award for initiative data operations,” she said. Admitting that it was difficult, she told THE WEEKEND STAR that she found balance with the help of her support system.

“I’m confident that I did pass the theory and the practical part of my exams. The studying was a bit challenging because I was also doing a course online so I had to study for that and my exams here at AF.” A memorable part of her valedictory speech spoke volumes about the relationships she has built with the other students.

“The sports day that was held here, I entered the cheerleading competition for my house. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it but because of the help of other trainees and staff, I joined, and then my house won the cheerleading competition,” she said. “We overcame a lot of anxiety together to be honest, because we all had our challenges that we helped each other to overcome or get better at.”

Speaking on plans of the future, Gibson said that she has plans to continue her education.

“My plans are currently applying for a job through HR. I’m coming back September to Abilities Foundation to continue my customer care service course,” she said.

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