Visually impaired father celebrates putting children through college | Loop Jamaica

The content originally appeared on: Jamaica News | Loop News

Howard Hibbert envisioned a good life for his children, and being visually impaired wasn’t going to prevent him from making that happen.

Today, as the 55-year-old Harbour View, St Andrew resident and chef celebrates Father’s Day, he is very proud that his children were able to attain tertiary education.

“I never get that opportunity, and I know that education is the key, and I make up my mind from earlier that whatever my children wanted to do they have to achieve it,” he told Loop News.

Hibbert was 14 years old when he suddenly went blind and had to drop out of school. He recalls feeling a pain in his eyes one day, and two days later, while on his way to the doctor, he lost his sight.

After numerous doctor visits over the years, trying to determine the cause of his condition, he was given a diagnosis last year of optic neuritis. This is a condition that occurs when swelling (inflammation) damages the optic nerve, which transmits visual information from the eye to the brain. It can lead to slight blurring or blind spots to complete blindness.

Hibbert explained that for the first three years of his condition, he was in complete darkness. However, over the years, he’s been able to glimpse things if they are close enough.

Sometimes when the bus passing the bus stop, I don’t see the bus coming. But, if it stops at the bus stop, I can see the colour and hear the sound.

Describing himself as hardworking, Hibbert was still a teenager when he decided he would not let his disability define the rest of his life.

“It reach to a stage where I was getting older, and I say, ‘I cyaa depend on my mother for the rest of mi life’,” he said.

The father of three shared that he apprenticed with a potter in Kingston before his skills in the kitchen landed him a job in a restaurant. He started by washing plates and pots but soon graduated to food prep duties.

“Everybody knew that I didn’t see well. So they tried to give me simple things to do, but sometimes, if people don’t show up, I had to step up and do other jobs, too,” he said.

Hibbert said he made sure to take advantage of all the training opportunities on the job, and in 1999, he decided to open a restaurant. However, business was slow, and he was forced to shut it down a few months in and was back on the job hunt again. This time, he landed a job at a restaurant in a hotel.

“I remember when I was filling out the form, a girl say, ‘Wait, yuh left yuh glasses man?’ And mi said, ‘Yes, and she helped me to fill it out’,” he said, before bursting into laughter.

Legally blind

Despite being visually impaired, Hibbert has never used a cane. He explained that at the time he tried to register with Jamaica Society for the Blind, he was described as having “low vision” and as such did not require a cane to function. It wasn’t until two years ago that he was declared legally blind, but even now, he still chooses to go without a cane.

“A never let a lot of people know that I can’t see. The persons who are close to me, they know. But I never walked with a cane, everybody who knows me is amazed,” he told Loop News.

Hibbert prides himself on being self-sufficient and competent at his job, and he was motivated by the desire to see his two children attain a higher level of education than he did.

Two of Howard Hibbert’s children who are degree holders, Chevenna and Chavaugh

“Chevaughn (his son) wanted to go university, and mi a seh mi a guh fail mi children man because him cyaa go university because mi cyaa afford it. So I pushed. I just decided that anything happens after happens, but I’m sure that he’s getting in,” he said.

Hibbert took a loan against his salary and shared that he was never afraid to ask for help.

“Sometimes him not even have any money in him pocket, wi cudda just muster likkle food, and send go give him. And when I get pay Friday, I ran go put like a $2,000 or $3,000 inna di bank so he could get it for the next week,” he said.

His sacrifice paid off when in 2018 his firstborn graduated from Northern Caribbean University (NCU) with a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication, and, two years later, his daughter graduated from The University of the West Indies with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

“It was rough, but mi live fi see Chevaugh graduate from NCU and Chevenna graduate from UWI now and start working,” he said.

Now, the father of three is encouraging other fathers to invest in their children’s future, regardless of the challenges faced.

“Never give up; try and share it. Talk with other people if yuh must, because the minute you give up, your children will fall off. Your children are so important; they are the future,” a proud Hibbert said.

Having been a chef in the hotel industry, one of the sectors impacted amid the coronavirus pandemic, the father of three was laid off but remains committed to providing for his family.