Shemlyn Abrams: a seamstress, a teacher, a breadwinner, a resilient woman

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Shemlyn Nicola Abrams

By: Shane Marks 

Famous American poet, Maya Angelou once said, “I am woman, phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, that’s me.” Phenomenal is just one of the many amazing words that can be used to describe 43-year-old Shemlyn Nicola Abrams, a seamstress, an officer of the law, a caretaker, a breadwinner, a strong resilient woman.

Growing up, Shemlyn’s life was not smothered in glitter and gold, not even silver. She was the last of eight children for her single-parent mother, who did multiple jobs to provide for her and her siblings. She recalled going home after school and being greeted by an empty house as her mother was still out trying to find her next meal.

“Growing up that my mom has so many of us and she was the only one working, to go out there to bring in to feed us. There have times when going to school, we used to live in Campbellville and I attended New Cornelius Primary in Queenstown, so we had to walk to school in the morning, walk home back at lunchtime to see if there was anything to eat then walk back to school. If you meet home and anything isn’t there, then you would have to wait until she comes home with whatever,” Shemlyn said in an interview with this publication.

Shemlyn said that before her mother died, she encouraged her to learn a trade. It was advice Shemlyn took by the horns and never let go of. Never being a fan of the craft of sewing, Shemlyn, like faith would have it, learnt of a sewing course in her community and her mother encouraged her to take it.

“My mom used to sew, but I never liked it. All I used to do was help her thread the needle. But after my mom took sick with cancer, her last words to me were to go out there and learn a trade, and after the sewing course came up, I told her, her words to me were ‘go learn it’,” she said.

Her mother never got to see her complete the course, but, to this day, Shemlyn is thankful for her mother’s encouragement and advice. She has been a seamstress for over twenty years, a staggering milestone many have yet to accomplish.

Counting her stars as lucky, Shemlyn was given the opportunity to get employment at the Guyana Police Force (GPF) as a seamstress in the GPF’s tailor shop as a lance-corporal. She has been employed there for over three years.

“Being a Police, my job at my work is also sewing. I work at the tailor shop at the Police Tailor Shop, so I sew all the time. I work from Sunday to Sunday,” she said.

The hardworking woman shared that she is the breadwinner of her family since her husband is unable to work as a result of injuries sustained in an accident almost two years ago. She is also assisting to provide for other family members who are experiencing financial difficulties.

“My husband ended up in an accident actually a year and change, home not working. So, I’m always on the go. Always on the go. I’m providing for me and my husband and the bills. My sister passed away five months ago and I help out towards her mortgage too. I have a brother in Essequibo that is sick [unfortunately Shemlyn’s brother died on Sunday, subsequent to this interview], I help him out with his daughter that is writing CXC from April. I help out there too. I’m always helping. I’m always giving to others even though it’s not that much,” the mother of one said.

Shemlyn stated that her responsibilities – the ones she does not mind having – and her tough childhood in some way contributed to her being antisocial. The 43-year-old said that all her focus goes into helping her family and trying to build her sewing business into a well-known establishment. This craft is what helps pay her bills, she said.

Thanks to putting years of her life into the craft of sewing, Shemlyn is also a sewing instructor, teaching sewing classes to stay-at-home moms, and young girls in her community through the Board of Industrial Training (BIT) courses.

“I also have a part-time job that I teach sewing classes through BIT, so in my spare time that’s what I do. I teach students. I teach single parents that are home and aren’t doing anything or who are working nightshifts that they could be able to come out during the day and learn a trade.”

Shemlyn instructed two courses in 2021 and all the students graduated with a certificate.
This drive to teach others a craft that has brought her such a long way piggy-backed off her mother’s determination to provide for her and her siblings, and also the people that helped her when she was growing up.

She said that when she was younger, she always wanted someone to extend a helping hand to her family, to show them some kindness. She remembers two neighbours who always made sure that they gave her and her family a loaf of bread.

She strongly believes that a little goes a long way for someone who is in need. “I think if others don’t have and you can help, help because when I been small, I wish it had others to help us.”

Shemlyn’s one wish for this International Women’s Day is to have an established business that would provide employment for other women just like herself.

So, as I said in the beginning, there are many more words that can be used to define the phenomenal woman that is Shemlyn Nicola Abrams. Through all of her struggles, she continues to fight and persevere. A woman, made with determination, with a goal in sight, can be anything she wants to be.