Jun 30, 2013 News Comments Off on A fighting chance at redemption – The Jahleel London Story
By Sharmain Grainger
There is no telling how far earnest prayers together with hard work can go unless you try; just ask 12-year-old Jahleel London. He, like so many other children his age, is currently preparing for secondary school, an undertaking that was no small task for this young child. I am sure you will concur once you are able to digest the details of his experience of a dozen years on this earth.
At this relatively tender age, he has had challenges that many adults couldn’t imagine recovering from, even with the strongest of willpower, except they had the kind of support that included
“lots of help from Jesus.”
It would have been understandable if he were born with a noticeable medical defect, but according to his mother, Jannis London, Jahleel was born quite a normal child. However, by the time he was about six months old he began falling ill regularly, something that many paediatricians were not able to explain, but some surely tried.
“Initially they thought it was the normal illness that some babies would go through, but after we went from doctor to doctor, no one could have said exactly what it was,” Mrs London disclosed. She and her husband, Errol London, were however eventually able to find out that the root of Jahleel’s problem was Sickle Cell Anaemia. This was due to the fact that both parents had the disease trait.
This was the couple’s first child and so they quickly learnt what was necessary to cope with the constant challenges that emerged, which entailed many trips to the hospital in an attempt to address the many sickle cell crises he suffered.
Jahleel was however able to attend school as any normal child and was a straight ‘A’ pupil by the time he was in Grade Two at St Margaret’s Primary School. He was on top of his academic game when he exited Grade Two.
But by the time he entered Grade Three he suffered what his mother described as “the worst of it all” in terms of his sickness. He fell severely ill and had to be hospitalised for about two months, and by the time he was ready to be discharged, Jahleel had suffered a stroke. His entire right side was incapacitated, an effect of the sickle cell disease.
“We took him into the hospital walking, talking… and when we were leaving we had to lift him out,” Mrs London recounted.
Jahleel remained at home for about another month because of his condition, during which time he literally had to learn to walk, talk and even re-learn all that he had been taught over the years. It is believed that the stroke had severely impacted the functioning of his brain, which resulted in him forgetting even the alphabet and how to count.
“He couldn’t recognise letters. There was nothing he could’ve done on his own,” said Mrs London, who insisted that having to stay away from school did nothing to help the situation.
Jahleel was however determined to return to school and fervently did whatever it took to show his parents that he was going to recover. He often prayed for help, as did his parents and many others, and before long he was well on his way to a remarkable recovery.
Returning to school
Although still exhibiting residual signs of the stroke, Jahleel was eventually able to return to school with the blessing of the Head Teacher, Ms Georgina Lewis, who willingly accommodated him.
But he certainly wasn’t the same, in terms of his performance. His tests scores were zero, as his brain seemed incapable of understanding the simplest of questions. It was quite a devastating turn of events, noted his mother, who related that “he kept asking me ‘mommy how come I can’t perform like I used to’ and we had to explain to him that it was nothing of his doing but rather the illness caused it. We assured him that with time he was going to regain the knowledge and other things that he had lost.”
Each class he was placed in, he was blessed to have teachers who were not only caring but went the extra mile in an effort to help him return to his former self. His classmates were no less supportive, as even some of the boys would assist him with using the bathroom when he couldn’t by himself.
Things did take a dramatic change for the better when Jahleel was entrusted into the care of Miss Odette John, who Mrs London described as a “very motherly teacher who did her best to involve him in all class activities.”
“She took her time to ensure that he understood the concepts, and he developed a bond with her, and I think that is what really helped to accelerate his learning.”
“The truth of the matter, Miss John was perhaps the only one that had absolute confidence that Jahleel would be adequately prepared for the National Grade Six Assessment (NGSA) despite the prevailing challenge,” Mrs London opined.
“Everybody gave us the support we needed – family friends, our church family, even our workmates – they would support us and encourage us and tell us keep working, he is going to make it, but Miss John, she was very, very assured, because she was working with him all the time; she kept insisting that he was going to do it.”
According to Mrs London, she eventually embraced Miss John’s unwavering confidence and was soon putting in the extra effort to work along with Jahleel, who was also ably assisted by his younger brother Jahrol. Ten-year-old Jahrol is currently a very ambitious Fourth Grader at St Margaret’s.
Jahleel’s preparation for the NGSA was in full gear in December and continued until March when the assessment commenced. But two weeks prior to the assessment, Mrs London, recognising her son’s earnest desire to succeed, took some time off from her Republic Bank job to attend school with her son.
The decision was prompted by an appeal from Jahleel, according to Mrs London, who recalled how “one day he came home and he just kept saying ‘mommy I don’t want to become a junkie, mommy I really want to learn and I want you to help me’.”
Moved by the earnest petition, Mrs London, through Jahleel’s class teacher, requested permission from the head teacher to stay with him during classes.
“I worked with him and I did in fact see what Miss John was talking about – that there was hope for my son.”
But according to Miss John, what she was able to teach Jahleel over the period she taught him, pales in comparison to what she learnt from him.
“He taught me determination…what it is to be appreciative of what you have. He taught me more than I could have done for him,” said Miss John as she recalled how Jahleel moved from one level of understanding to another.
She noted, though, that when he first entered her class at Grade Five she wasn’t too enthused, as she wasn’t sure she could cope with such a pupil. She would soon discover, however, that he was only too eager to learn and there was unconditional support from his classmates, which continued in Grade Six.
Ms John reflected on how Jahleel’s classmates would cheer for him whenever he attempted a task. “He would say ‘Miss I want to go to the chalkboard’ and I would allow him, and the other children would clap for him, and that in itself was a motivation for him.”
She recognised that he needed a bit more attention than her other pupils and therefore would use books from the lower grades to deliver remedial sessions.
Miss John recounted that by January there was no denying the fact that Jahleel was taking responsibility for his learning and was not going to be held back by his condition. “Whenever we had Composition, regardless of what I would give, he would always write about himself and his condition and how he is thankful to be in the body he is in…how he is grateful to God for his life, and that encouraged me a lot.”
Miss John has been a teacher for 19 years, 10 of which have been spent at St Margaret’s, but according to her, she has never encountered a pupil quite like Jahleel.
The NGSA results were on Friday, June 7, officially released by Minister of Education, Priya Manickchand, and were available to schools across the country by the following week.
Having done her part to support Jahleel’s schooling, Mrs London was not prepared to face the results. In fact she was only too willing to hand that task over to his father.
“It was an interesting day when I heard the results were out and I said that it was time now for daddy to handle that. I didn’t really know how to react to the results,” she said.
But it wasn’t really a task to Mr London, but rather a privilege to learn what his son had accomplished. Given the determination and perseverance exhibited by Jahleel, coupled with the help from his mother and teachers, he was sure that the best possible result would be the outcome.
“I expected nothing less than a satisfactory performance considering his challenges, so it was pretty easy for me to just walk into the school and ask for the results,” he disclosed.
Mr London, a lecturer at the Cyril Potter College of Education, recalled how he had promised Jahleel to arrive at his school by 10:00 hours on Monday, June 10, to uplift his results, but was delayed. And by the time he arrived at the school he was greeted with reports of his son’s anxiety.
“As soon as I arrived his teacher told me how he was constantly asking for an update of the time. He was very excited to prove that he had done well.”
The suspense heightened as father and son, hand in hand, walked the school’s corridor to the head teacher’s office to uplift the results. And as they drew closer to the moment of truth, Jahleel just could not resist the temptation to inform his father that “you guys will see…I told you I was going to do it, and you will see daddy.”
With 412 marks, Jahleel secured placement at Tucville Secondary, and according to him, he has no one else to thank but “Jesus, my parents and my teachers.”
“I expect to achieve more in my studies. I would like to become either a doctor or a scientist.”
He also threw out a challenge to parents who may think that their children are too slow in terms of learning.
“Give them a chance; you don’t know whether your child will do well unless they get that chance.”
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