Certain events cross our paths that test our steel, forge our character, and challenge the outer limits of our faith. Such are the storms of life. None of us are exempt, nor are we immune to the varying degrees of ferocity they impose. And, if we choose to believe Him and embrace the challenge, God will use these events to bring about good.
One such storm changed the course of Lashonda Powell’s life - literally, forcefully, and dramatically. It also served to strengthen the resolve and determination of this young lady to rise to the game-changing challenges it brought to her life. She chose to believe.
Lashonda had just enrolled in her very first year of high school and was settling in for the exciting months ahead following her summer break. She was looking forward to being with her friends and classmates at the Triple C School located on the Caribbean island of Grand Cayman - the largest of the three islands which make up the Caymans.
Classes began in late August, but there was a looming threat on the horizon which dampened the excitement of the new school year. A tropical storm had been brewing in the Atlantic. This was nothing new as classes always begin in the middle of hurricane season in the Caymans. On September 5, 2004, however, this menacing tempest gathered strength, and quickly graduated to a very strong hurricane status.
From September 11-13, Hurricane Ivan peaked in intensity and unleashed its fury on Grand Cayman, leaving little mercy in its wake. Winds of 150 mph and gusts of up to 220 mph tore through the island causing severe, widespread destruction. Damages totalled over $2 billion. Tragically, two people on the island were killed.
The roof of Lashonda’s home was completely torn off. The house filled with water flooding in from the 16 metre storm surge that swept the island. Lashonda and her family were able to move in with relatives on the other side of the island who had thankfully escaped Ivan’s rage.
Despite stringent building codes in place to ensure the ability to withstand major hurricanes, the majority of buildings on Grand Cayman were either destroyed, uninhabitable, or severely damaged. Many families were left homeless. Some had to leave the island, not being able to return for months. Most residents went without electricity, water, and sewer services for several months following the storm.
Lashonda’s school, Triple C - the very first private school on the island and the very first to offer secondary school education on Grand Cayman - was completely destroyed. Lashonda faced an uncertain future, but the Powells rallied together. Education is high on the family’s priority list, and no storm great or small was going to impede Lashonda’s first year of high school.
“Family means the world to me. They keep me grounded. We’re very close. They’re a place where I can find peace in a world of chaos,” Lashonda shared during our interview.
With her family’s guidance and support, Lashonda made some crucial decisions in the wake of Ivan’s devastation. Her mother consulted Pam Douglas, a friend from church, who had recently sent her children - Sean and Sabrina - to Canada to attend Niagara Christian Collegiate.
Two weeks prior to the storm, Lashonda began high school with her Caymanian friends on the island. Two weeks after the storm, Lashonda settled into her classes at NCC, in Canada - away from home, away from family and friends, and immersed in a very different culture and environment.
“It was a very difficult decision for me, but it turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made”, Lashonda said during our chat via Skype.
Challenges like Hurricane Ivan made Lashonda “...more open to the opportunities that life presents. It strengthens your relationships with family members and with God. It allowed me to trust in the decisions I make. It makes you stronger.”
Even among a sea of diverse people, she identified the warm hospitality and friendliness as characteristics which are unique to Canadian culture. Everyone at NCC helped her to feel very welcome in this very different environment. Having the Douglas siblings at the school also helped make the transition a lot easier for her. NCC faculty, staff, and students soon became Lashonda’s second family - her home away from home.
“Going to NCC really changed my life, exposing me to living in a different culture and living with people from a variety of cultures.” Lashonda was very glad that she could easily assimilate into the unique global community on NCC’s campus. She especially enjoyed the times on residence getting to know students from around the globe. “I’m still in contact with one of my roommates, Mariana Luna, with whom I’m very close and with Christine Raveenthran, who attends medical school in the Caribbean. You build lifelong friendships at NCC.”
Lashonda attended NCC for grades 9, 10 and 12. For grade 11, she travelled home to Grand Cayman after missing her friends and family. Following the hurricane, she had not been able to re-connect with her friends and felt that this was important to do. She then returned to NCC for her grade 12 year.
NCC’s high academic standards helped prepare Lashonda for the rigors of university. “I was able to apply the techniques I learned at NCC to my studies at university. NCC prepared me a lot.”
After graduating from NCC, Lashonda attended the University of Toronto, carrying a double major in Psychology and Political Science along with a minor in English Literature. She graduated with an Honours Bachelor of Science degree, and is currently enrolled at the Truman Bodden Law School, where she is pursuing an Honours Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of Liverpool.
In the midst of the demands of law school, Lashonda also wanted to serve her Grand Cayman island community. She chose to enroll in the Duke of Edinburgh Award Program. This is an exciting self-development program available to young people ages 14-24, equipping them with life skills to make a difference to themselves, their communities, and the world. This proved to be a perfect fit to fulfill Lashonda’s desire for community service and to practice her leadership skills.
For her efforts in this international youth leadership initiative, Lashonda was recently presented a gold award certificate by the Their Royal Highnesses, Prince Edward, The Earl of Wessex, and Sophie, Countess of Wessex.
At the time of this interview, Lashonda was in the middle of her law exams. Graduation took place in August 2016. She went on to complete a legal practice course at the University of Sheffield in England, a requirement in the British system upon completion of a law degree.
Lashonda Powell has passed more than a few tough tests both in and out of school. At a young age, she was forced to make the tough decision to leave home. In doing so, she found a welcoming home away from home on the campus of NCC.
Lashonda will soon fulfill her dream of practicing law on the beautiful island of Grand Cayman. There’s no storm that can stop this Cayman Island girl!
We also received news of yet another of Lashonda's accomplishments!
Ogier announces 2016 scholarship recipient in the Cayman Islands News - 17/08/2016
"Ogier is pleased to announce that Lashonda Powell is the recipient of this year’s scholarship opportunity. The firm reviewed a large number of qualified applicants for the scholarship this year and had the difficult task of narrowing the impressive field down to just a few for the short-list. All short-listed applicants were offered internships at the firm over the summer as part of the application process. During her internship, Lashonda stood out as the most talented and promising."