Jessica Manuel

By: Jessica Manuel

Today, I face very typical problems on a day to day basis, ones that many of you may face. I have to deal with traffic, I have to find parking in downtown Toronto, I have to deal with deadlines, restless nights or finding a healthy balance between my personal and professional life. But it wasn’t that long ago that any of these trivial issues were not a concern to me as my only burden was finding my next meal.

As a young child my life was marked by instability. My family was broken, my mother was struggling to raise twin girls and the odds of having a strong self-esteem was quickly diminishing. As a result of poor communication in our home, it became a place of uncertainty and hardship; a place where it was easier to accept the hardship and not solve the problems.

This started with the simple things, like understanding homework, then it quickly progressed into insecurities at school and a poor choice of friends. The cycle was leading towards a path of self destruction with limited guidance and emotional support.

Despite all the trials and tribulations, poor nutrition was the leading cause of my mental, emotional and physical health suffering in my first year of high school. Not long after, at the age of fourteen, I found myself in a youth detention centre as I was arrested for stealing food.

I was surrounded by children who were crying to go home to their families while I was crying to stay. I ate three meals a day. I was safe. This was home.

For two years I battled homelessness, dependant on youth homes and the kindness of strangers.

At 16, it was time to find an apartment. Even though I was determined, the feeling of insecurity and doubt was overwhelming. I knew that I could not do it on my own, so I sought out resources to help me.

It gives me shivers thinking back about how scared, vulnerable and alone I felt walking into the food bank for the first time. Other people were waiting for food, men, young children and mothers. I quickly accepted that my future was nothing to look forward to.

I always accepted help, and embraced every opportunity to change my anticipated journey.

At the age of 16, I got that apartment while enrolling into my fifth high school. “I was on my way to changing my destiny”, It was the first time I learned the feeling of being proud of myself. At 17, I also learned that I was pregnant.

It finally made sense when I thought of my daughter, Christine. I needed to ‘break the chain’ of instability so that she could experience a life of love, hope and stability. The same life I desired for myself.

Through a miraculous chain of events, I was able to find a family for Christine, a family that became my own.

Where once it seemed that I was destined to repeat the cycle of poverty and hardship, I was the first from my family to graduate with a post-secondary education. I found beauty and strength in sharing my story at the age of nineteen; a story that is became relatable and effective to youth, corporations, leaders, victims of poverty, not-for-profit agencies and many more.

And now as the President of “BREAKING THE CHAIN”, I can help others by sharing my experiences and liberating people from choices that are holding them back. My job is not to change everyone, my job is to assist the people who want to change. I plan to do this by sharing information, inspiration and stories of transformation.

I’m also working on creating a platform for others to share their story of struggle. I believe vulnerability is a beautiful and strong trait for someone to have; and it only helps society as a whole.

This is just the beginning…

So is that flat tire, coffee stain or rude neighbour really your biggest problem today? Let me remind you, life can be worse. We all have a story and we all have 24 hours in a day, what are you doing with it?

I look forward to sharing more with you!