Little more than a year ago, a despondent Ira Powell said he came to the painful realisation that he was wasting his life and needed to do something positive with it.
The 25-year-old, who dropped out of high school from the ninth grade, admitted that he had been living aimlessly, spending most of his days chasing women, playing football or simply idling on the corner with his friends in his community of Zimbabwe, a section of Arnett Gardens. Powell, who went to Charlie Smith High School, said he didn't know where to go in order to turn his life around until his neighbour, 'Ms Angela', introduced him to an opportunity to better himself in August 2021.
He was told about the Articulated Truck Driving (ATD) Level 2 programme, which is jointly spearheaded by the Ministry of National Security, HEART/NSTA Trust and the Caribbean Military Academy (CMA). The nine-month programme targets unattached youths in western Jamaica and Kingston. It offers to prepare individuals to apply technical knowledge and skills to operate articulated and combination vehicles including trailers, trucks, buses, delivery vehicles, for-hire and other commercial vehicles. Each participant is awarded a National Council on Technical and Vocational Education and Training certificate. Those who do not have a driver's licence will receive a general one.
A smiling Powell told THE STAR that he was now excited about his future, having completed his course at a graduation ceremony held at the Jamaica Defence Force's (JDF) CMA Auditorium at Up Park Camp, Kingston.
"If mi never do that, mi would a follow up some bad things. So mi decide fi do the right thing, because I was serious about changing my life," said Powell, before detailing life in Zimbabwe.
"I lost my best friend (Damarely Wilson) due to gun violence and what's worse, he wasn't in violence. When I dropped out of school, it was because my mother couldn't afford to send me to school any more, so I had to start fending for myself from there. My father, who people say was respected in the community, died when I was only six months old and so my mother had to struggle alone raising seven of us," he said.
Powell received one of the loudest cheers at the ceremony when the graduates collected their certificates. The cohort consisted of 27 men and three women.
"When I first joined, I didn't know how to drive any at all. I couldn't move a vehicle. But this programme taught me about road code, how to operate a vehicle. It taught me about caution, but most importantly, I now feel better about myself," he said.
"I was wasting time with people who didn't even want to waste time with me, because a lot of them were trying to make it one way or the other. There was a time when I had no confidence in myself because I was scared and such, always doubting myself because I didn't complete school and those things," he added.
Powell, who said he got baptised three months after his friend died, said he enjoyed every minute of the course and is now looking to capitalise on the experience.
"I am a certified truck driver, imagine that! I am going to continue the journey. I am hoping that I can get some overseas work after I develop here and gain some working experience. I am so excited right now, and when I think about the journey to this point, all I can say is that every single moment was worth it," he said.
But the journey wasn't all smooth sailing. There were days when the violence in his community posed a serious threat to his studies.
"More while I found myself praying while going home. I was like 'Fada God just mek mi reach in safe', because many nights the sound of gunshots greeted me when coming home. But this and many other challenges I used as motivation to finish," he said.