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Special Forces General
My name is Mehgan Lee-Waterman and I’m the principal, administrator, dishwasher, you name it, of a special needs school.
It can be annoying when people mispronounce my first name as “Meg-gun” instead of “May-gun”. But I’m kinda used to it after a couple of decades.
I have a sister, Phoebe, six years younger, who’s my teacher. She’s not a teacher, she’s my teacher, in patience. I think she prepared me for my line of work. Because she’s the only person on this planet who can make me see red. But I love her dearly.
We moved up to the UK when I was around 18 months old until Phoebe was born. But childhood memories really begun in Trinidad. My masters in Special Education is from Birmingham so I have new memories of England.
I speak Spanish. But I get very shy about it, unless you give me a glass of wine.
We’re a bunch of hippies on the mountain—my mother, my sister, myself and our three dogs. We’re into good vibes, good energy, yoga and crystals. We call it Spirit Mountain but we really just live on a hill.
In Chile and Argentina, I worked with special needs kids and came back to Trinidad around 2010 and said, “Hi mom and dad, thanks for paying for my degree but I’m switching from my very comfortable advertising salary into special needs teaching. My aunt is a special needs person. Back in the 60’s, it wasn’t labelled, but I think she was part of an inspiration I didn’t recognise until I grew older.
I have all the patience in the world for special needs kids. I don’t have any for certain drivers on our roads.
I convinced the university in Birmingham how important it was to have Special Ed qualified people in Trinidad and Tobago. I applied for a local scholarship with a letter of recommendation from the Minister of Education. Special Education is the country’s number one priority and they took six months to deny me. Luckily, my grandfather supported me in doing my masters.
I play football. Dad wanted sons and he got two daughters. So I play football.
I probably spent half my life with my parents together and half with them split apart. But we still have a very close-knit family. They’re very good friends. They’ve known one another for, like, a million years.
Why are we paying for laptops and Miss Universe gowns but not for kids who are different learners to go to school? The Academy for Special Needs is a private school. We are not a babysitting centre. We have real goals, set with speech and occupational therapists.
We’ve been pushing to remove the stigma attached to special needs, teaching the public to be a little more accepting. This is a very realistic part of our society. It’s not just a case of shipping people off to St Anns! Someone with a special need does not necessarily have a psychological condition, they just learn differently. And they need the support and patience of people who can cope with themselves.
We do as many outings as we can to include the kids in the society. The older ones go to the grocery every week. They write a list, they find the items, they use Auntie Mehgan’s Linx card to pay.
I’ve written the new Minister of Education saying, pretty much, this is my degree, this is my country: let me help! Only time will tell but I’m really hopeful that some things will change.
Right now, the Government will only subsidise $1400 a term per child. They agree to pay staff salaries but I went to a meeting in October where nothing had been paid since May. Schools cannot survive off of that!
The best thing about my job is seeing the kids’ progress every day. The bad thing is the finances. Parents don’t plan for a special needs child and they don’t plan on putting out a lot more for school fees and therapies. If any companies would like to help us out, that would be great!
A Trini is grateful for the amazing island we live on, all our animals, our rainforests and our foods.
Trinidad and Tobago is my home, my life and a great multicultural society. We have such a diversity with religions, skin tones and beliefs moving towards being a unified body.
• Read a longer version of this feature at www.BCRaw.com
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