“Now that I am into domestic violence awareness, I have come to realise that abuse is a form of control, and for some reason, many women go along with it because they are convinced that they do not have the strength to leave.”
By Sharmain Grainger
Our ‘Special Person’ today is undoubtedly a woman of substance. Her name is Leslyn Roseanna Holder. She currently holds the position of Education and Training Director within The Caribbean Voice [TCV], an ever-vibrant Non-Governmental Organisation [NGO], which has a main focus to help root out the daunting scourge of suicide and violence in the society.
Anyone who knows Holder can safely say that she is a woman known to undertake just about every task she is given with nothing short of complete distinction. But after hearing her story, it isn’t hard to fathom how a single woman could exude such genuine commitment in just about every area of her life.
Some might very well conclude that she was created to be a true champion of women, especially those who are vulnerable and rarely find a true listening ear that not only empathises, but completely understands what they have been through.
You see, Holder not only endured many abusive relationships herself, but she even grew seeing her mother abused as well.
“Now that I am into domestic violence awareness, I have come to realise that abuse is a form of control, and for some reason many women go along with it because they are convinced that they do not have the strength to leave,” Holder shared during a recent interview.
But she is on a mission to empower, not only women, but just about anyone who feels that they are incapable of walking away from circumstances that do nothing to elevate them as human beings.
Although her mother, Grace Vanlewin hailed from an area in the Pomeroon River, Holder, born on February 13, 1969 as the second of six children, was raised in Bartica, Region Seven. She remembers vividly growing up in that part of the country as if it were yesterday.
“I can remember the sense of community there; we always had that sense of community. I remember my mom; she would bake in this big old wooden oven and everybody in the community could come and put their bread in too…and when she couldn’t do it another neighbour would take on that role,” Holder reminisced.
As Seventh-day Adventist believers, attending church was not merely an infrequent activity but rather, a way of life for the Holders’ household. Attending school was also equally important.
For many years, Holder was convinced that her family was pretty normal, since there was a mother, a father and children all living together under a single roof. But it wasn’t until years later that she would learn that the man she called ‘Dad’ was in fact her step-father.
For many years, the identity of her biological father was kept a secret from her. But this certainly wasn’t the worse thing to have happened to Holder, even as she blossomed into a young lady.
You see although she believed her family was very normal at first, there was clear evidence which suggested that it certainly wasn’t. Holder grew up in a home where abuse was chronic; a situation that was almost always triggered by her step-father’s imbibing ways.
“He was an alcoholic…when I look back, I realised that things that looked normal to me, they really were not. My mother was always beaten; she was very, very abused and I remember my step-father would not come home for days when he drank. Many days, we would go hungry because we didn’t have food,” recalled Holder, as she remembered her mother being a very abiding housewife, although she was educated and could have easily made it on her own.
According to Holder, it was often the communal sense among members of the community that kicked-in many days to ensure that she and her siblings did not starve. They also relied heavily on fruit-bearing trees, recalled a smiling Holder, who has a keen appreciation for fruit trees even to this day.
“When there was no food…curried chicken and cook-up and the rest of it, there was always fruits from the trees, so that was a plus for us.”
Although the various forms of abuse were evident, Holder recounted the valiant attempt by her mother to camouflage the situation.
“I remember my mother would play games with us, she would take us swimming, but it was only later, I realised what she was trying to do. She was trying to create a distraction from the ugly side of things so that we had some sort of normalcy…but I knew she suffered; she suffered a lot as an abused woman,” Holder shared.
In fact, Holder grew up hearing things like “abuse in a marriage is normal” and “you have to stay because of the kids” but even then she confided, “I just knew that couldn’t be right.”
“I was always a thinker and I thought that couldn’t be right in any way.”
However, as part of maintaining some semblance of routine, Holder’s mother ensured that her children attended school. Holder attended St. Anthony’s Primary and then Bartica Secondary. But as fate would have it, Holder would become the only one among her siblings who was given the opportunity to complete secondary level school. This was in most part due to the fact that the situation at home continued to deteriorate.
“Of course as we got older, the demands got more and I think my step-father was totally incapable of looking after us financially…even though sometimes he worked two jobs.”
AGAINST ALL ODDS
The years of abuse had long taken a toll on Holder’s mother, so much so that she was often hospitalised. Added to this, there were times that the work that her step-father got would take him far away from the household. This of course meant that Holder and her siblings had to do a lot of growing up on their own.
“My family situation got worse and my older sister had to find work…my brothers after me, they too had to quit school and find work,” Holder recalled.
But she was determined to remain in school although that certainly was not easy. Well not up until she started receiving support from a pastor and his wife who really helped Holder along. “They were a very big influence for me,” related Holder, who envisaged becoming a nurse much like the pastor’s wife.
Although, she was determined to prove that she had the ability to become someone outstanding, life had other plans for the yet blossoming young woman. Her plan was to complete school and then pursue training in nursing.
But Holder was sure that her dreams were unattainable the day she returned home from school and was attacked and raped by a very older man who was visiting the community at the time. Neither her mother nor step-father, or siblings for that matter, were there to rescue her.
The three persons she confided in, insisted that she spoke nothing more of the ordeal that she endured. It was even worse when she found out that she was impregnated by the rapist.
Forced to leave school because of her pregnancy, Holder was convinced there was no hope for her in such a cruel world. She, moreover, saw suicide as her only way out and attempted to do so.
Although, she eventually gave birth to a baby boy who died by the time he was six months old, the hurt and pain that engulfed her ever since the day she was raped; simply would not leave.
“I sort of blamed myself for being raped and I eventually went completely off the rails… I started drinking and partying and getting away from home…I was doing all the things I knew I shouldn’t do,” recalled Holder.
In hopes of trying to find love and purpose for living, Holder struck up a relationship with a young man who turned out to be especially abusive. “I always had a lot of bruises and I was always thinking my life was not worth living.” By the time she 17 years old, Holder had already attempted suicide three times. Her final attempt saw her ingesting a gallon of kerosene oil.
But surviving was in fact the turning point in her life.
Since there obviously was a need for more pages to be added to the life story of our ‘Special Person’, she was overcome by a renewed sense of purpose, which drove her to move past her daunting circumstances. She was determined to get her act together and become a nurse, even if it were the last thing she did.
Holder has since written a book ‘Where the rivers run deep’ -sharing her story in the hope that young people who have suffered in much the way she has, will be inspired to remain strong and find their true calling in life.
It wasn’t until she turned 19 that things started to change for her. “I decided to turn my life around,” she recalled. But the life she envisaged for herself did not materialise overnight. Although she became financially independent when she landed a job as a National Insurance Scheme clerk, the urge to imbibe and be unruly still lingered. But her determination was enough to push her to secure the qualifications she needed to be trained as a nurse.
“Nursing really, really redeemed me,” said Holder of her nursing career. But life still was not what she’d hoped, even after attaining her career goal.
Holder revealed that even though she had gotten married and had a decent existence, she was yet subjected to abuse at the hands of her husband. Even after a divorce and involvement in yet another relationship, life was no better.
“I kept getting involved over and over with men who were abusive, and the next one was always worse than the one before that,” she intimated.
By this time, Holder was the mother of two – Lisa and Kevin – and was overwhelmed with the belief that she had the ability to steer her life in a fulfilling direction. This was particularly important to her because she surely did not want her children to grow up amidst abuse as she did years earlier.
She opted to become a single parent and was able to create a happy atmosphere to raise her children. Although life was fulfilling, it took a great deal of sacrifice and commitment. According to Holder, “I looked after my kids on my own and to do this I held down three jobs at one time… I worked a full-time job at the Georgetown Public Hospital and I was doing shifts at Woodlands Hospital and at Medical Arts Centre.”
LIVING HER BEST LIFE
Not only was Holder able to make a good life for herself and children here in Guyana, but she was even able to experience life overseas when she migrated to the United Kingdom where she was able to advance her nursing skills. The move to advance her knowledge in nursing, Holder said, “was to ensure that I can give my patients the best care. I always believe patients are hospitalised not by choice but because of illness, and that could be any one of us, and so they deserve the best care possible.”
Although she was able to excel, taking on a number of managerial positions – even introducing programmes to enhance the delivery of care overseas – Holder remained close to the land of her birth. In fact, she disclosed that she was constantly thinking of ways that she could come back home to share her expertise with the health care system.
Things all fell into place in 2015 when she was invited to do so. Not only was she able to contribute to the Public Health Ministry’s Mental Health Unit, during its fledging phase, but also lend support to the crafting of a National Suicide and Mental Health Prevention Action plans.
Holder has also been able to share her expertise with the private health sector by taking up a position with the St Joseph Mercy Hospital when it opened its Mercy Resident Care Home in Pere Street, Kitty, Georgetown. Added to this, she has been offering home care service.
But our ‘Special Person’ has not been limited to offering her nursing skills across the country, since in addition to being a part of TCV, she has been instrumental in the establishment of a NGO – the By Faith Foundation, which has the empowerment of the people in Region One as its main focus. The organisation has already started to gain the support of governmental agencies.
Holder has since remarried to Stephen Thisby, who she considers the love of her life, and is now living her best life by doing things that help, especially women, realise that they can live fulfilling lives even after years of abuse or after the throes of mental ailment.