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Blind student excels at CSEC

Thursday, August 14, 2014
Visually-impaired Shamika Henry, third from left, celebrates her achievement in the CSEC examination with her mother, Allyson Rebeiro, second from right, and siblings at their home in San Fernando yesterday. PHOTO: RISHI RAGOONATH

The best birthday gift ever, said Holy Faith Convent, Couva, student Shamika Henry yesterday, describing how it felt to get a full certificate in her Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) exams, despite being blind. On Tuesday, Henry, of San Fernando Street, San Fernando, turned 18 and she said she prayed hard for good grades. With her mother Allyson Rebeiro at her side the teenager went online on Tuesday evening to check her CSEC results. She prayed silently as she waited for her results to appear. 

When her mother read the results to her, the ecstatic teenager said: “I wanted to fall down when I heard I got a one in mathematics and two distinctions.” Henry, speaking to the T&T Guardian at her home yesterday, said she had expected to do well but was surprised to have excelled at maths because it was a significant challenge for her in school. “I was praying hard and working hard towards it,” she said, smiling. Rebeiro said her daughter was an inspiration to all and she was proud of her resolve. 

“This is to encourage others. To anyone facing any challenge, whether it is physical or not, this should encourage you. Do not be discouraged. You can accomplish anything. For you anything is possible,” Rebeiro said. Henry, an aspiring singer and poet, and her mother said they were grateful to software development company RSC International, based in Penal, for re-designing its maths software program to help Henry improve her maths. 

She said they worked closely with her in the months leading to the CSEC examinations and she wanted to do well to express her gratitude. “When they created Maths Solutions for me it made me feel it was worth it to know that people were trying to make things easier for me. (I thought) why not put in all the effort to do well? When I heard the results I said it was the best birthday gift ever.” 

She got distinctions in English Language and English Literature, a one in mathematics and twos in Spanish, principles of business, music and theatre arts. She was unable to complete her biology exam because she was hospitalised but her mother said she would resit the exam in January. Rebeiro, a Spanish teacher at St Benedict’s College, La Romaine, said she was grateful for the software because Henry had been getting low grades in maths because most of the questions involved diagrams.

But she said she had faith in God her daughter would excel. She added: “God always placed one of his people there to help us along this five-year journey. When I saw the results I was overjoyed, ecstatic. I went down on my knees and gave praise to Jesus. “I promised her a shopping spree and she will get it. I was expecting her to do well. I was never doubtful.” Her husband, Joel, has been a big influence on Henry and has supported her every step of the way, she said. 

She said yesterday Henry was selected for a special space camp in Alabama, United States, and would leave next month. Henry said she wanted to do a degree in languages and literature and would be doing business management, Spanish and literature for Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations (CAPE). Henry, the sixth of seven siblings, began losing her vision shortly after passing for Holy Faith Convent five years ago. 

She went to Boston for surgery to repair a detached retina and glaucoma but it was unsuccessful and she lost the sight in both eyes. Rebeiro said in 2012, when they returned to Trinidad, Henry enrolled in the School for the Blind and completed the two-year course in five months. 

She was allowed to return to Holy Faith and move up to Form Three together with the girls she started Form One with, even though she missed Second Form and did not complete First Form. She said the school community was good to her daughter and nurtured her.

Maths software a big help 

Yesterday software designer Raj Ramdass, who was instrumental in reworking the program for Henry, said he was thrilled when he heard about her CSEC results. “I prayed and thanked the Lord for her results. When I met her she won my heart and she touched me. I do not have a daughter and I felt as if she was my daughter and when I heard, I was so happy and proud of her,” he said. 

Ramdass said he, together with Dr Fayad Ali and Shereen Khan, embarked on a pilot project to develop maths software locally and improve maths results. In 2012 they did a pilot project with Union Claxton Bay Secondary using the software and the school attained a 300 per cent improvement in maths. He said the Ministry of Education partnered with the company to distribute the software to schools and do workshops with teachers. They worked with 95 schools.


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