Jamaica Gleaner / Mandeville, Manchester:
The small two-bedroom house in the community of Blackshop in St James that housed seven individuals with little to no modern amenities laid the foundation for 27-year-old Dr Sherrefa Burchell and her journey from a humble background to internationally trained science expert and research-centre director.
“I was the fourth of five children for my mother, whom she raised singly, working as a domestic helper for as long as I can remember. I met my father and his family when I was about seven years old. I lived with my mother, grandmother, three sisters, brother, and we all slept in one room with two beds until the older ones started moving out, one by one.”
From a societal standpoint, Burchell and her family were poor. However, growing up, she never thought of her family in that way.
“If nothing else, we always had food. And on top of that, my grandmother was a great cook, so much so that even when everyone else in the community started to get gas stoves (and we couldn’t afford to yet), our neighbours would still come over for food that my grandmother would cook, or bake, on our wood fire.
“The other reason I didn’t think of us as poor was that we always went to school. My mother never went beyond high school, but she ensured all her children knew the importance of a good education.”
A NEED FOR MORE
Taking her usual trips to the river to bathe, swim or wash clothes was a joy for Burchell, who learnt from early to be content with living simply. But she knew that she needed more, and going outside of her community would need to be an option.
After leaving Montego Bay High School for Girls with 13 passes in CSEC and GCE subjects, with mainly distinctions, she ended up at Northern Caribbean University (NCU) through her then pastor.
Burchell was granted the President’s Award for Excellence which covered her tuition for the first three years of college. In her final year, she was selected to represent the university locally and internationally as the Female Student Ambassador, which provided some of the funding for her final-year tuition.
“While I did receive these benefits, for which I was so grateful, I still had several student jobs on campus in order to cover my fees for the dormitory and any other outstanding balances. I worked in the custodial services department, on the dorm as a resident advisor and receptionist, and in the biology department as a lab instructor. All these experiences created a balance and helped to prepare me for the next step.”
Her next step was the decision made to study a particular programme at Loma Linda University in southern California.
“I had always wanted to study medicine, and this presented an opportunity to do a combined MD/PhD degree, which was pretty enticing at the time. I went right after graduation from NCU.
“For the first several months in California though, I was very homesick, and had I not met two of the greatest friends my first full day there, I probably would have come right back home. So I thank God for the blessing of these ladies who were also from the Caribbean (Jamaica and The Bahamas). We had a wonderful connection, making the transition to life in another country so much easier. We studied together, cooked and ate together, and walked everywhere together, since none of us had a car as yet, which brought us a lot of strange stares as most people there drive. But we had fun.”
This powerhouse of a woman moved on to travel the world and do immense things through the power of God.
Next week, we share with you exactly how this little girl from Blackshop moved to becoming highly qualified in her field, with experiences from all over the world and in a top position at a university.