Breaking the silence: Daval Nicholas’ beautiful story of triumph over loss, adversity

Young Jamaican packaging operator Daval Nicholas has not told many people of her traumatic past. Today, 32 and stronger than ever, she shares her story and aspirations for the future. (Photo contributed)

When most teenagers were busy preparing for external exams, making friends and even going to parties, young Daval Nicholas was rendered speechless by unspeakable tragedy.

At the age of 14, she lost her mother under circumstances that could be described as bizarre, and did not utter a single word for an entire year.

The life-altering incident, which happened in 2002 when Daval lived with her older sister and younger brother in Spanish Town, admittingly reads like a good piece of fiction.

If ‘Vanished’ happened in real life, it still wouldn’t be as shocking as this

“Mommy worked overseas and would go back and forth. She had been home spending time with us and was supposed to go back to work. My stepfather took her to the airport, and that was the last anyone ever saw her,” Daval explained.

“I can’t explain what that was like. I was too young to even process what was going on. No one knew what had happened to her and this went on for months until we accepted that she was probably dead, even though her body was never found,” she continued.

With their mother gone and no financial support, the family eventually split up. The traumatised teen dropped out of Old Harbour High School and her brother went to live with an aunt in Portland.

“My older sister got a scholarship to university and the plan was for me to go with my brother. But I didn’t want to go. An uncle overseas got me a job as a helper in Miami so I went. I worked and saved my money with the intention of coming home and going back to school,” she explained.

But with the trauma of losing her mother haunting her, Daval found it impossible to focus on studies at first. After some time, she enrolled in the Jamaica-German Automotive School (JAGAS) where she completed a diploma in motor vehicle repairs for cars and light trucks.

With a hands-on approach, Daval persevered

Declaring that she had always been ‘mechanically inclined’, Daval said she thrived at JAGAS, finishing strong with the coveted Spirit of HEART Award.

“When I started at JAGAS, I was the only girl in a class of 70. I graduated and got a job as a valuator in a loss adjusters firm. After doing that for a few months, I landed a job at Kingston Wharves in the maintenance department.”

While here, Daval learned how to drive a trailer truck and received training to become a certified stacker, mastering the technique to stack 40-foot containers at the port. She also snagged a scholarship to study transport and distribution at the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU) and ended the programme with an Associate’s Degree.

With her love for moving things and a knack for engineering, Daval has been described as a tomboy, a label she embraces as she often finds herself in fields of work generally dominated by men. These days as a 32-year-old professional, she works shoulder-to-shoulder with the best of her male counterparts as a packaging operator at beer company Red Stripe.

‘So what’? Daval Nicholas hears it all the time, working in fields dominated by men. The word ‘tomboy’, however, has done nothing to deter the 32-year-old Jamaican from doing what she loves as a packaging operator at beer manufacturing giants Red Stripe. (Photo contributed)

Setting the bar, her own way…

“My mechanical background has helped me to navigate the hurdles of the job. I’m the junior on the team, but my boss is open to ideas and it has helped me to grow,” she contends, adding that while the packaging department was challenging at first, she has found her groove and is now looking forward to an opportunity to work in the company’s engineering team.

For the future, the Portland-raised, now capably trained auto mechanic says she dreams of one day operating her very own auto service shop offering a range of services. “I’m not talking about a garage because that sounds like one of those ‘under a tree’ type things. I’m talking about a full-service shop where my clients can get their vehicles serviced and washed,” said Daval.

Pushing past her memories that shaped Daval has been a test of her mettle. Beyond her immediate circle, Daval confessed that not many people know of her struggles. “I’ve never shared what happened to me in this kind of setting before. But I think it’s the right time. If anything I have been through can help someone else, then it’s worth opening up.”