My path to becoming a nurse, midwife, and an advocate for women's health began before I knew what any of those things were.
I was raised by grandmother in rural Jamaica. When I was eight or nine years old, Gran began taking me to visit the elderly people in my community, especially older women. We would bring them gifts and help them around the house. By teaching me to look out for others, my grandmother was also nurturing my passion for advocacy for the poor and disadvantaged.
As a teenager, I survived sexual abuse. The period that followed was a difficult time for me - I suffered from low self-esteem and depression, and was even on the verge of suicide. My grandmother, a woman of great faith, helped me to regain my strength and inspired me to direct my energy and experience into standing up for what is right. Becoming a leader in the community was a way for me to heal.
Three years ago, I founded Be Inspired International, a community-based organization that conducts outreach activities in vulnerable communities with high rates of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Our volunteers are university students, health care professionals, educators, and church leaders - they all have faced challenges in their lives, but are dedicated to reaching and empowering young people to become their best selves. Every year we have health fairs or clinics where we provide health screenings and information to women and girls. We also visit schools to encourage young women to pursue new skills training, so they can support themselves and make their own life decisions.
Life for women and girls in Jamaica has seen recent improvements in terms of education and job opportunities, but the health situation is complicated. Many pregnant mothers live in rural areas and do not receive consistent antenatal care. Child mortality has dropped in recent years, and so has the rate of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, but maternal mortality is still a problem. My hope is that Be Inspired International can expand our partnerships to include more health screenings to reach the women who still do not have access to quality care.
I'm excited about what the future holds - for my organization, for women and girls in Jamaica, and for my fellow Young Leaders, who represent the next generation of activists, boldly standing up for what we believe is right. I know my Gran would be proud.
Victoria is one of 100 Young Leaders from around the world selected to participate in a leadership development program as part of the 2013 Women Deliver conference in Kuala Lumpur, May 27-30, 2013. The youth pre-conference is sponsored by Johnson & Johnson. Follow Victoria during the conference at @Vicmelhado.