By Richardson Dhalai Thursday, August 14 2014
She was born with juvenile cataracts and, although they were removed, was later diagnosed with glaucoma which left her without any vision in both eyes.
However, this did not daunt 18-year-old Shamika Henry, who, through persistence, hard work, encouragement from her teachers and the use of a special computer software, was able to gain a grade one in Mathematics while securing distinctions in English Language and English Literature in the 2014 May/June Caribbean Secondary Entrance Certificate (CSEC) examinations.
Henry, who is legally blind, was also able to secure passes in four other CSEC subjects — grade two in Spanish, Music, Principles of Business and Theatre Arts.
She was however unable to write the Biology exam as she had to be hospitalised during the exam but is planning to repeat the subject.
Her accomplishment was made even more impressive as, up to Form Four, she was barely able to scrape through Mathematics, and would only secure grades measurable in the lower percentages in end-of-term exams.
Henry, who attended Holy Faith Convent, Couva, was then given a teaching aide by the Ministry of Education, which also introduced her to a software developer who modified his software for use by visually impaired persons.
And with two months left for the CSEC examinations, Henry, together with her teachers, plunged herself into the Mathematics curriculum using the Job Access With Speech (JAWS) programme. JAWS is a computer screen reader programme for Microsoft Windows that allows blind and visually impaired users to read the screen either with a text-to-speech output or by a refreshable braille display.
“I wasn’t expected to get a one because I didn’t have much access to past papers but I was able to work independently and check over questions without having to ask people to look in a book and that was a great source of help,” Henry, a composed young woman, said during an interview at her home on San Fernando Street, San Fernando yesterday.
Asked how she felt upon learning that she had not only received a grade one in Maths but had secured a distinction in English and English Literature and secured passes in four other subjects, Henry exclaimed, “I feel great.”
“The pass rate in Maths in the Caribbean is not that good so I want to be an encouragement to other young persons who feel as if they cannot make something of their lives,” she said, adding “all you have to do is be ambitious, hardworking and never give up.”
Henry, who speaks quickly with an engaging smile, said her future plans include writing Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations (CAPE) at Holy Faith Convent, with her desire being able to pursue a writing career or become a lecturer in English Literature. Her mother, Allyson Rebeiro, a teacher at St Benedicts College, La Romaine, who was also ecstatic, recalled her daughter was born with juvenile cataracts which had been surgically removed at a Boston hospital in the United States.
However, at age 13, she was diagnosed with glaucoma and, upon returning to Boston for further treatment, was told the disease had damaged her retinas, rendering her blind in both eyes.
She said Henry, who had successfully passed the SEA examinations for Holy Faith Convent, had to miss part of Form One and all of Form Two due to the illness. Upon her return to Trinidad, she was enrolled at the School for the Blind at Santa Cruz, but after finishing a two-year course in five months, returned to Holy Faith Convent.
“All of my teachers were supportive,” she said and noted that one of the school’s music teachers had volunteered to take her to and from school on a daily basis.
“I am just so overwhelmed,” she said, with a little laugh, adding, “and I am hoping that I can inspire other students to not give up.”
Glaucoma is a complicated disease in which damage to the optic nerve leads to progressive, irreversible vision loss. Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness.