It’s the little things, like being given the opportunity to choose her school bag and shoes, why Ramona Lyttle has never forgotten the lessons she learnt as a ward of the State.
She entered the system when she was two and over the years it nurtured her into an independent, ambitious young woman. Fate eventually took her to the United States and she is now the first Jamaican and black student to deliver the valedictory address at Concordia College in Minnesota, United States.
“[It was] an incredibly humbling and blessed experience. It was not an easy journey, mainly because I found myself alone in the United States, navigating life independently. I had always dreamt of delivering a graduation speech, so when I was selected as the valedictorian I was shocked but delighted. Despite not being famous on campus, I overcame my initial hesitation. I realised this achievement was a testament to my hard work, determination, and the support of those who believed in me,” she told the Jamaica Observer.
The support of which she speaks is attributed mainly to the SOS Children’s Villages.
“My upbringing and living conditions were shaped by my experience at the SOS Children’s Villages. At age two, I became a resident of the village, which consisted of 11 houses. Each house accommodated nine children, along with a housemother and a house aunt who provided us with care and support. I was fortunate to be a part of House 9, where I received nurturing guidance and a sense of belonging,” Lyttle said.
She stressed that the village ensured that she and other wards had the necessary resources to have a good education and to thrive holistically.
“Living in the SOS Children’s Villages was a unique experience. We had our own beds, closets, and clothes, which gave us a sense of individuality and ownership. One aspect that I always looked forward to was the opportunity to choose my own school bag and shoes. It may seem small, but having that autonomy made me feel empowered and excited for the upcoming academic year,” said Lyttle.
She also remembers how much the village benefitted from private sponsorship.
“Sponsors provided resources such as laptops for college-bound children, ensuring we had the necessary tools for academic success. Additionally, the organisation arranged special treats and activities during holidays like Children’s Day, Christmas, etc, showing their generosity and support,” Lyttle explained.
She attended the SOS Hermann Gmeiner Preparatory School, located outside the main village area in St Andrew, and had the opportunity to interact and study with other students.
“It was a great experience that gave me a sense of inclusion and diversity,” she said.
Lyttle later enrolled at Mona High School, where her teachers believed in her and supported her academic journey. Despite the challenges faced, she maintained a positive outlook on life and did not allow her circumstances to define her.
“None of the students or teachers knew about my background because I chose not to act or dress according to my circumstances. One should not be judged based on their circumstances but on their character and achievements,” she underscored.
Moving to the US marked a significant transition in Lyttle’s life; however, the process was a little easier due to her prior experience studying in Norway for two years.
“Living away from home then helped me adapt to new environments and cultures. Nonetheless, I struggled to find genuine friends who could provide the support and understanding I desired. Connecting with individuals who stood by me and shared my aspirations was a challenge. During my college years, I relied heavily on my faith and a higher power to guide me through those challenging moments,” she recalled.
She often received support from the State-care system to help her fulfil her academic pursuits and she had a network of friends on whom she could rely when seemingly insurmountable challenges surfaced.
“State care ensured that I had access to extracurricular activities, such as dance and swimming classes and additional lessons tailored to my interests and needs while I was in Jamaica. They even sponsored my extra lesson class in pure mathematics at Campion College in Jamaica, highlighting their commitment to my educational growth,” said a grateful Lyttle.
Her passion for numbers led her to pursue a degree in accounting with a focus on general accounting, which aligns with her skills, interests, and long-term goals.
“I’ve always been passionate about finance and numbers, excelling in mathematics and analytical subjects since my early academic years. Accounting offers a mix of problem-solving, critical thinking, and attention to detail, qualities that resonate with my strengths and personal inclinations. Additionally, accounting plays a crucial role in every organisation, making it a versatile skill set that opens doors to various career opportunities,” noted Lyttle, who is also an avid reader and music lover.
She plans to further her studies over the next few years.
“I see myself graduating from graduate school in the next five years with a PhD. By the time I reach 28, I should have finished my academic pursuits and focused on my job and personal growth,” she said.
And she is looking even further ahead.
“In the future, I plan to pursue advanced certifications, such as the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) designation, to enhance my professional qualifications. I aspire to work in reputable accounting firms or corporate finance departments, contributing to the financial success of organisations and taking on progressive roles that allow me to lead economic initiatives that drive growth and innovation,” Lyttle explained.
She has a message for children whose beginnings are similar to hers.
“To all children in State care and young people striving towards their dreams, I urge you to keep pushing forward. Remember that every obstacle is an opportunity to grow and learn. Surround yourself with positive influences and seek out support and guidance when necessary. Whether through music, reading, sports, or any other passion, find what brings you joy and pursue it with all your heart. You can overcome any challenge and achieve your goals with hard work, perseverance, and self-belief. You all go out there be and be great!” she urged.
She has made all those who moulded her during her younger years incredibly proud.
Director of SOS Children’s Villages Jason Brown is extremely happy about Lyttle’s successes, especially as the non-profit entity celebrates its 50th year of impacting lives.
“Knowing Ramona’s journey and seeing her current achievements has left me immensely proud. It only underscores the fact that greatness is achievable once you apply yourself and push the boundaries. Her achievements are nothing short of barrier breaking and amazing,” he said.
“Ramona’s story is a testament and much-needed push to inspire other children in State care to reach for greatness irrespective of their circumstances. This story shows that they are all capable of making an impact in the world, defying the odds to make themselves proud most importantly. I wish for my sons and daughters to see Ramona’s achievement as the educational floor for the structures they will go on to build for themselves,” Brown added.