They year 2011 has been the worst one so far in Yasheka Brooks’ life. It was the year the then 14-year-old became pregnant while attending high school.
“Due to peer pressure, I started dating my first boyfriend in grade eight. He was a very popular student. We dated for six months and then my boyfriend, who was four years older than me, started to ask for sex. I took some time and thought about it and we decided that we would do so. However, the second time we had sexual intercourse I became pregnant,” Yasheka told The Sunday Gleaner.
Yasheka grow up in Portland with her mother who is a dressmaker, and her father who is a shoemaker and shopkeeper. They were disappointed in her becoming pregnant and her father withdrew his financial support.
She was heavily involved in school and church at the time and had dreams of becoming a gynaecologist. That dream came crashing down when news got out that she was pregnant.
“I became depressed to the point that I wanted to hurt myself. To make matters worse a church member asked me to stop taking part in every activity that I was involved in at the church. I was the president of the youth group and a head server.
“When my friends found out that I was pregnant, many of them ended our friendship. Teachers, students and even members of my community were very judgemental towards me. I was the subject of every mother and teenage daughter argument in my community,” said Yasheka, who dropped out of high school when she was in the first trimester of her pregnancy.
Battling to deal with the situation, Yasheka said she enrolled in the Women’s Centre of Jamaica in Port Antonio, Portland.
“I attended the women centre for seven months; the centre changed my life. They taught me that being pregnant was not the end of my life. I learnt that there was hope in my life and I was the only one who could make my dreams become a reality. I regained my self-esteem and felt highly motivated,” said Yasheka.
While at the centre, Yasheka achieved a certificate in food preparation, and learnt how to sew clothes for her unborn child. Six week after giving birth to a daughter, she was back in high school where she repeated grade nine.
Skilled in sewing
“After a long day at school I had to reach home on time to collect the baby from my mother. Each evening I had to wash the baby clothes and look after my daughter so that she would go to her bed early and I could began doing my schoolwork.
“Most nights by the time I ate my dinner, I was sleepy so I had to go to bed early. I had to wake up at midnight to complete my schoolwork. Unfortunately, my daughter would do the same,” added Yasheka.
She was struggling financially as well and many days attended school without lunch. She opted to sell sweets and bag juice at school and in her community to help herself.
Yasheka maintained good grades in high school and in grade 10 was awarded the top mathematician prize for the school year. She was also appointed a prefect. In grade 11 she was nominated for the position of deputy head girl, having been told that the head girl position was out of the question because as a teenage mother she could send the wrong message to the other students.
She completed grade 11 with passes in 10 subjects. After high school, she worked as a shopkeeper and attended extensions sixth form where she sat two subjects at CAPE and passed them.
In 2016, she applied to the Excelsior Community College to study nursing and was able to pay 60 per cent of her tuition fee.
“Attending college without financial support was very challenging. I was thinking that family members might come together and assist me but that did not happen. Going to college is hard for me. I had many sleepless nights, many days without food to eat,” said Yasheka.
But her financial challenges should be less this year as she was recently granted a scholarship valued at $140,000 by the Women’s Centre.
With a grade-point average of 3.59, which places her in the top group in college, the now 21-year-old, who is entering her third year, spends much of her time trying to help others from falling into the trap of being a teenage mother.
“I have told many young girls in my community that my life is not easy as it seems, and many may not be as lucky as I am, to have a mother to take care of their child while they attended school.
“Teenage pregnancy forces young girls to give up their teenage life, which will make you feel as if you are the only person in the world,” said Yasheka.