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Surviving and thriving - Charmaine Chambers’ epic journey from abuse to entrepreneurship

 




Recalling the frightening experience of trying to escape an abusive relationship, shop owner Charmaine Chambers readily confesses that being financially dependent on her partner at the time was a key factor that kept her trapped in what could easily have become a tragic story.  


The 42-year-old businesswoman shared a chilling memory of watching her child's father sharpen a machete as he sat on the veranda of their home in Port Maria, St Mary.

"The verbal abuse was terrible, and when I couldn't take it any more and I said that I was going to leave, him sey before him let me go, him would chop off mi head first. I went straight to the police station to report it. They called him on him phone, and him walk boldly into the station and tell dem that I am his investment and that I cyaa leave him. The police listen to him as him tell dem how him been taking care of me for nine years. The female police officer then turn and ask me what more mi want, if mi no see dat the man is taking care of me. I will never forget that as long as I live," said Chambers.


That conversation was a turning point for the mother of three who embarked on a long and difficult journey to safety, which involved relocating twice to escape her child's father who stalked her for months. Fleeing with her children, she recalls how a relative had to cover the $3,500 to pay the moving van because she was unable to find the money. During that chapter of her life, Chambers said she lost herself.


"I lost my smile. I forgot who I was. I would get a joke and I couldn't even crack a smile. I had to start encouraging myself. I remember getting up one day and looking in the mirror and saying, 'Girl, yuh have to snap out of dis, yu cyaa continue like dis'," she shared, adding that her oldest son, a teenager at the time, helped to keep her moving forward even when she wavered.


"When things were really rough after we moved the first time, my son look at me and seh, 'Mom, I don't know about you enuh, but I am not going back there'. Those words motivated me to keep going," Chambers said.


After three months, she landed not one but two jobs, determined to create a better life for herself and her children. She relocated to Brown's Town in St Ann where she eventually teamed up with a business partner and later took up an opportunity in Montego Bay.


"I invested what I had saved into a kitchen that was serving a call centre. Things were going well until my business partner decided that he wanted more than just a business relationship. When I refused, the whole thing went sour and I lost the contract. Is a good thing I had seen the shop in Barrett Hall and decided to start it up before this went down," Chambers explained.


Located in the Lilliput area of St James, the shop became a godsend for Chambers who went to Access Financial Services for a loan when she was ready to restock. Admitting that business is sometimes slow, the entrepreneur says she lives on faith.

"The first day in the shop I made only $1,500 and I was so discouraged. On day two, I made $2,500, so I said, OK, this could get better. Wherever the Lord leads, He feeds - that's my mantra. I hold on to that. And I said, let me work it and see what happen," she asserted.


Fast forward two years and Chambers says while business isn't always great, she's surviving and living as her true self. She was one of three recipients of the Access Financial Services Women in Business Award recently. The award recognises small business owners who are holding their own as entrepreneurs while making meaningful contributions to their communities.


"My daughter calls me Sandra Claus. I got it from my mother so I can't help it. She was a single mom with 10 of us but somehow, she always manage to help somebody else. Since I've been here, I see a need in the community. So, in December we had a treat for the children. I actually took a loan to buy some things and ended up partnering with a lady from overseas who sent a big box with school bags, books and pencils. I spent more than I planned but I did it because I just wanted to do something for them. The children in the community come and buy things at the shop all the time. I'm planning another treat for back to school this year as well," she declared.


No one knows the impact of struggle more than Chambers, who is originally from Central Village in St Catherine where she says "Ackee was my best friend on a Sunday." It's been a long road for this survivor who was herself a teen mom and high school dropout.


"I have learned so many lessons that I want other young girls to know. Mek sure you learn as much as you can. Don't gaze. Don't waste your time in school. You have to be financially independent. That's how you will be free. You won't be looking over your shoulder. If you're in business, don't take your eye off your goal. Most people start with a vision but lose it after a while. You cyaa tek from the business and don't put it back. Keep your mind on the reason you started the business in the first place."


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