AS a trade unionist, a generalist social worker, a retired senior auditor, an educator, and a family and children’s advocate, Marcia Higgins has mastered the art of making the connections between the varying segments of the society.
With her experience in all these areas, she has helped to formulate solutions to the myriad of challenges facing children, families, workers and her students. And based on her own traumatic life experience, she was also thrust into the role of becoming a motivator.
Higgins had no idea that her life would have been so multifaceted while growing up in St Ann with her parents and six siblings. At 11 years old, her parents sent her to Kingston to study at the Convent of Mercy (Alpha) Academy; but just four years after packing up her ‘dulcimina’ and heading to town, she found herself being called back to the country.
“I did not get to finish high school because disaster struck when my father met in an accident — He was the fire chief in St Ann’s Bay — and so I had to come home to help my family,” she said.
Seeing that schooling was now out of the picture, Higgins called the Auditor General’s Department where she had worked as a holiday worker on previous occasions. Despite being just 15 years old at the time, they decided to give her a chance until she was eventually trained as an auditor on the job.
“It was difficult because you had to look after your brothers and sisters,” she said of her experience as a teen worker. “Every little money you get — because I used to get $15.75 — it had to share,” she said.
While working at the Auditor General’s Department, she met some of the stalwarts of the trade union movement and got involved — to the point where she later became the vice-president of the Jamaica Civil Service Association.
Being a public servant meant that Higgins became exposed to the principles and policies within the public, sector which she applied to her role as a trade unionist. Given her lack of academic qualifications in auditing, the then auditor general, Adrian Strachan, also sent her to do a certification course at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, so that she could become a certified public accountant.
But while it was her job as an auditor that led her to become a trade unionist, it was through her work as the president for the neighbourhood watch programme for communities along Molynes Road that led her to study social work. She said both children and parents in the community had issues that needed the intervention of a social worker and she felt that certification in this area could help her to intervene. Given the need for a social worker in their community, the residents within the neighbourhood watch later pooled their resources and came up with the funds needed for Higgins to get her certificate in social work from UWI. She later went on to achieve her first degree, then her master’s in social work as well.
But despite her academic and professional success, Higgins also had to overcome several challenges along the way. In 2006, she watched helplessly as her husband died in her arms while they were at home, thereby making her a widow and leaving her three children without a father.
She was still mourning his loss when just a year later, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The doctors found that five of the 27 tumours in her breast were malignant and so she had a mastectomy done.
As if this wasn’t bad enough, Higgins was then diagnosed with cervical spondylosis. She had seen her grandmother, then her mother suffer through the disease, which leads to the degeneration of the joints.
Given her life experience and her knowledge of the challenges workers and families face in their relationship with each other, Higgins founded Making Your Connections Holistic Services in 2009. This is a non-profit organisation that allows her to offer free counselling services to workers and families.
“It is making the connections between my experiences as an auditor, auditing social services in my earlier years, and as a trade unionist working with workers who have families,” she said.
Higgins has retired from the Auditor General’s Department, which now gives her a lot of time to teach. She is a part-time clinical presenter and trainer at the UWI Violence Prevention Clinic, a guest lecturer and presenter at the UWI Hugh Lawson Shearer Trade Union Institute, and also a lecturer in the Social Work Department at the university. She is also presently on contract as an assistant professor at Northern Caribbean University.