Knox head boy seeks financial help to study medicine

KNOX College head boy and high achiever Niguel Walker dreams of becoming a doctor. But after losing his dad to illness last year and then watching his mother – a farmer – suffer her second stroke, the teen knows that accomplishing that goal won’t be a walk in the park.

Walker, 18, who obtained nine grade one passes at the Caribbean Secondary Examination Certificate (CSEC) level, and five grade ones so far in Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations (CAPE), has been accepted to pursue pre-medical studies at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) in August. Even after securing a partial scholarship, however, he still needs assistance to make his dream a reality.

“My motivation to keep achieving the best in school came from my socio-economic background,” the youngster told the Jamaica Observer. “I wasn’t brought up in a rich family. I’m from really modest, humble beginnings, and I realised that I have to change my life in order to change the lives of the generations that will come after me.”

Hailing from the fertile, hilly community of Bohemia in St Ann, Walker’s parents both farmed yam and other cash crops until his father fell ill in 2019. While his dad was in and out of the hospital, Walker’s mother continued farming, despite suffering a minor stroke the year before.

“When he came home from the hospital that Christmas Eve, little did we know that it would be the last Christmas he spent with us,” the boy recalled emotionally as he spoke about his dad. “In early 2020 he went back in, and he was in and out of the hospital for a while. The doctors told my mom that they didn’t think he’d make it but we were still trying to be optimistic. He went through a difficult period in July, and then I woke up one Saturday morning and saw my mom and my cousins crying, and I knew he died.”

Just two months before his father passed away Niguel’s mother had suffered her second stroke, making it even more difficult for her to continue working.

“She wasn’t able to speak, and that was super scary,” the last of the woman’s four children said. “Her health is not at its best. There are certain things that she is not able to do, like be in the cold or be in cold water. She becomes abnormally tired from time to time, but she keeps pushing.”

Although the tragedy and misfortune took their toll on the young man’s emotional state, they also steeled him even more in his desire to become a doctor.

“For the past five years, it was my goal to study forensic pathology,” he said. “However, this desire was changed when I lost my dad. I decided that I would invest my passion and diligence into becoming a surgeon. Even though I was not able to save my dad, I am most certain that there will be countless lives in the future that I can help.”

After learning about the University of Toronto, through a friend there, Walker was delighted to see that they have one of the best programmes in the world for his course of study at their Mississauga campus, and decided to apply last year. After being accepted, he also applied for and received a scholarship to cover 75 per cent of his CAD$60,000 tuition, but this still leaves him to cover the remaining CAD$15,000 (just under $2 million) plus airfare, books, residence fees and living expenses.

“They do have a work and study programme, so that would give me the opportunity to work while going to school,” the teen said. “So I’d be able to live in an off-campus residence with other university students at a modest price. That way I can work and cover my living expenses. There are other scholarships available, but I have to be enrolled in my courses before I am able to apply for them.”

But he still needs to get a foot in the door, so he has set up a GoFundMe campaign to help raise some of the money to get him enrolled this summer. He has so far garnered 750 euros (about $140,000) of his 15,000-euro goal.

“Asking people for help is not easy, and putting yourself out there and seeing that what you had expected isn’t what’s happening can be discouraging,” he said about the campaign. “But I have a dream, so I’m trying to remain hopeful that in time, it will start to show a bit more progress. I’m optimistic and very grateful for even the smallest donations, because as we always say ‘One, one cocoa full basket.’ ”

He added that those who don’t feel comfortable using the online platform can make a direct deposit to his Scotia Jamaica account: Account name – Niguel Walker, Christiana Branch, account number (000) 434393.

The student admitted that the pandemic has made it even more challenging for him to study this year, but it is a challenge he stood up to.

“One of the things that has been keeping me focused is the thought that there is going to be a life after COVID-19,” he said. “I try to ensure that I am doing what I would have done if COVID-19 hadn’t come about. It hasn’t been easy, and now is the time when I’ve encountered the most difficulty studying, but I’m still able to maintain my grades and perform well. I have been able to manage. I try to not encumber myself too much. I try to remain calm and optimistic that one day this is going to change.”

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