Life for 33-year-old Dhelia Gabriel took an unexpected turn in 2018 when the Ministry of Health terminated the medical intern after a video went public of her making racist comments.
Since then, Gabriel has worked temporarily as a private-for-hire (PH) driver on the Maracas/St Joseph–Curepe route and small-business owner.
Owing to financial problems, she had to close the business. She now sells local ornamental plants on the roadside near the family’s home in St Joseph to make a living.
"The experience was traumatic. I tried to move on and kept my mind active. The incident drove me to the church. I pledged allegiance to God and joined Bible school," Gabriel said.
"I tried my hands at a business selling souvenir items at Port of Spain. Recently, I began reflecting and observing the TT culture, wondering why, up to today, we still have these racist comments."
Speaking to Newsday by phone, Gabriel emphasised that finding work has been extremely difficult because of her "error."
Gabriel, who has a provisional medial licence, said she hopes she can continue to fulfil her lifelong dream, ironically, with the help of Dr Avinash Sawh.
Sawh, the owner of Sawh’s Medical Associates, is being investigated by the Medical Board for recent racial and derogatory comments.
Citing Sawh’s public apology, which included a promise to hire future staff on the basis of their qualifications and not ethnicity, Gabriel said her request for him to hire her is sincere.
The ministry fired her six weeks before she completed the one-year internship which would have allowed her to become a full-fledged doctor.
She said the provisional licence saysthe intern could practise if he/she completes the internship. The internship must be under the supervision of a professional with a full licence.
"In essence, he will be saving my career and his own reputation. He, being the owner of a private medical intuition, will be an ideal opportunity for me to complete my six weeks with him."
"I can then reapply to the medical board to let them know I would have completed the internship. If Dr Sawh has a vacant position for a doctor, I will be happy to take it."
She believes that, like her, Sawh made an error and expressed remorse for it.
Gabriel expressed concern about his well-being during this period. She warned him that the media are very cruel and suggested he has his attorneys around him at all times.
"Psychologically, this will take a toll on him. The Bible advises that in the multitude of counsellors, there is safety.
"His safety is important. He declared himself a multi-millionaire."
To date, the only counselling she got after her experience came from church elders and not from qualified psychologists. She said she tried many times to get help at the district's health centre (Maracas/ St Joseph).
The psychologist, Gabriel charged, has not made himself/herself available whenever she visited. Instead, Gabriel said staff members suggested she seek help privately.
"The Medical Board did not write to me to inform me if my licence was revoked. The Health Ministry, under which I was employed, said via a letter that I was not allowed to practise in public or private in TT.
"My understanding of the letter was that the decision was indefinite."
She recalled she completed her medical studies at 28 at St George's University in Grenada, becoming the first doctor in her immediate family.
Growing up, her mother always encouraged her to be the best academically.
As a child, Gabriel said, she aspired to become a doctor and often played the role.
For a period, she wanted to become a food specialist, considering she has a background in nutrition.
"My mother encouraged me to stick to the original plan. I followed and achieved my dream. My certificate was not bought in any way. I worked diligently and made a lot of sacrifices. I also prayed and fasted.
"It was a great journey, and I did not regret it in any way."
When the video surfaced, she said her parents and family were quite disappointed, adding they had high expectations of her. But she, the church, family and friends helped her to cope with the backlash.
Gabriel is the seventh of eight siblings.
She recalled that she has been pleading with the authorities to intervene. Gabriel said she wrote to President Paula-Mae Weekes requesting a presidential pardon. She later got a response from Weekes’ legal officer, who referred her to the Ministry of National Security for a pardon as a non-prisoner.
"As the head of state, I wanted assistance from her office. I also wrote to the Minister of Health and he told me to allow the matter to go through the legal process.
"The case went to the high court and the judge ruled against me."
She said she got her education using the Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses (GATE) programme and the Higher Education Loan Programme (HELP).
"I am trying to honour the contract I signed with GATE to give back service to the country. Apparently, the government does not want me to honour the contract."