Tears flowed down her cheeks as she accepted a cheque from JN Small Business Loans (JNSBL) at their head offices in downtown Kingston. The company helped her to expand her shop in Rock Pond, Red Hills, St. Andrew some eleven years ago and was helping her to get back on her feet, again.
There was pain as each tear drop fell, but greater than the pain was the sense of victory she was feeling, based on the chain-like series of unfortunate events, which seemed to have crushed her livelihood and dreams.
Indeed, the year 2013 was not the best for Phyllis Seabourne, but similar to the lesson in the pop tune “Try” by the American artiste Pink, which was further popularised by the Jamaican powerhouse Tessanne Chin on the US talent show “The Voice,” Miss Seabourne soon came to realise that being “burnt” by fire “doesn’t mean that you will die.”
“You just have to remain positive. It’s rough but you can’t allow it to overwhelm you,” the 55 year-old advised in a hollow voice, as she reflected on her trials.
Miss Seabourne’s troubles began with the death of her youngest brother in May. An asthmatic, his health issues often affected his ability to maintain employment; as a result, he, his daughter and grandchildren were dependent on Miss Seabourne, his eldest sister, to care for them.
“He used to come by me and anything I had I always gave it to them,” she recalls.
Then one afternoon at home, she received a frightening call.
“Someone found my brother in his house on Waltham Park Road. I went down there with two of my other brothers and we found him in the house lying on his face,” she recounted. He had suffered an asthma attack and was unable to seek help.
The days to follow were filled with personal anguish for Miss Seabourne, as she was close to her baby brother. “Two years ago our mother died and we never knew his father, so I used to look after him,” she said.
Facing personal health issues of her own, Miss Seabourne in September was admitted to hospital for surgery. This was during her grief and while she had the added responsibility of caring for his daughter and his two grandchildren.
“I was informed that my surgery was put off until next year, but I went back to the hospital, the Monday for a check up; and on my way back I bought some things to re-stock the shop and didn’t even pack them. On Tuesday I was home, and I wasn’t feeling so well, so I came out of the shop and sat at the front.”
While she was speaking with a customer, someone shouted that smoke was coming from Miss Seabourne’s wooden, four bedroom house.
“When I got to my room door I couldn’t enter. And, by the time I went around and went into the biggest room, the fire swept through the house.”
The shop, also constructed from wood, which was adjacent to the house, also went up in flames. Miss Seabourne lost everything–her business, personal belongings, her children and grand children’s belongings, including their school uniforms, books and other supplies.
“I only had the clothes on my back,” she remembered. The days that followed would be harrowing for the mother of three and her two grandchildren, as they moved into her eldest daughter’s small house nearby.
“There are many days when we did not have anything to eat,” she recollected, despite the assistance from her member of parliament, and some church groups which offered their assistance.
Miss Seabourne had started her business as a peanut vendor, supplementing her income by undertaking “days work” such as house cleaning and laundry. As her business grew, she plied her roadside vending on a full time basis on the streets of Kingston; and when the size of her inventory became too large to sell on the street, she decided to open a shop at her home in Rock Pond. That was 11 years ago.
“I started off selling a few household items; and customers encouraged me to sell more things. Therefore, I stock up the shop little by little, until I started to sell grocery items and other necessities,” Miss Seabourne explained.
In need of funds to re-stock her shop, she came across a JNSBL ad in the yellow pages of the telephone directory and decided to visit the location in downtown Kingston.
“The first time I got $12,000. I bought supplies for the shop and when I sell I go back and buy and stretch. Then I started to sell clothes, and people liked the things I was buying and selling,” she related.
Miss Seabourne would subsequently receive in excess of ten loans from JNSBL over her 11 year relationship with the company. Her business continued to perform well allowing her to even “lend a hand” to others in Rock Pond.
“People in the area just love when I cook because sometimes when me cook I can’t even get anything for myself. Me have to just hand them my plate,” she remembered.
Similar to other business owners, the Christmas season would be Miss Seabourne’s busiest time of year. And although this year she is counting her losses, she is also counting her gains. With some help from JNSBL she has been able to rebuild a shop to re-establish her operation.
Miss Seabourne’s JNSBL Field Officer, Candice Campbell visited her after the fire, took photographs; and discussed Miss Seabourne’s plight with a supervisor and manager, who responded promptly.
“Let us help her build back the shop,” was the decision, Miss Campbell related. “And we agreed that once she is back in business, she will be able to focus on her most immediate needs,” she said.
“When you have had a relationship as long and positive as we have had with Miss Seabourne, you have to do what you can to ensure that her business continues to develop,” added Philip Bernard, General Manager, JNSBL.
He noted that in the final analysis, the concept of microfinance is not only about providing loans; but, establishing relationships with people to help them develop the right solutions for their own growth.
With her small shop up and running again, hope glimmers for Miss Seabourne and her family as she looks forward to a more productive 2014. “I just want business to pick up again so that the children can get regular meals and go to school,” she said looking out from the window of her new shop.