Shaveesa Gasper inspires others to develop their own inner strength and pursue their dreams confidently through sharing her unique and harrowing story.
It never occurred to Antiguan born Shaveesa Gasper while talking to her mother in the kitchen of their home, that she would end up doused in kerosene and trying to out the flames burning her skin as she ran to a neighbour for help.
However, that is exactly what transpired on what Shaveesa describes as a normal morning that unexpectedly turned deadly when she was sixteen years old.
Speaking to the Girls Narrative Project in an exclusive interview a few years after the incident she described it with the candidness of someone used to recollecting this traumatic tale.
“My mom, she started to become happy one minute, sad one minute, basically an up and down in emotions. So while I was there trying to decide, like, “Mom, what’s happening to you? What’s happening”? Trying to find out what’s the matter. She then doused me with some kerosene and then she set me on fire,”she said.
“I ended up outing myself and then I went to try and look for help for myself from the next door neighbour. Then, the ambulance and the police came and then they had to put me in a medically induced coma. Then, five days later I was in France where I received my burn treatment. 60% of my body was burned, so yeah, I basically received treatment for that in France and then I returned six months after to Antigua”.
Shaveesa said she remembered feeling very confused, and shocked at the time, especially as there had been no prior tension or arguments between her and her mother before she threw the kerosene lamp at her.
Shaveesa said for her first sixteen years of life, it had just been her and her mother, and while she had seen her mother having to deal with things related to running a business, maintaining her family, and becoming a new mother to her baby sister, she didn’t think her bouts of depression was unnatural.
“It was my mom alone. She had to be dealing with things for me, and then for her business, and tried to keep us together, make a living for the both of us. Try to survive. Everything was normal for me, times when she would get really sad and crying; it was normal for me, I didn’t see it as strange or weird …and I wasn’t encouraged to talk about things that were happening at home because it’s personal.
So, you don’t want to share certain things with people, other persons and then they look at you funny or they judge you. I always felt that whatever happened at home is personal so you keep it to yourself. I never viewed anything as out of the way but there would be times when she would be really depressed and really sad and then I’d try to cheer her up,” she revealed.
The former crowned Miss Teenager Pageant Queen, said her treatment in France was a very difficult time in her life, as she was in a strange country, where she didn’t speak the language and she was aware of how big a change she was going through from her previous normal. It was during this period of her life, that she said she stopped being a girl.
“I had to take on this new mindset that my life has changed and I’m no longer the Shaveesa before. This is a new Shaveesa and I had to deal with making certain decisions, because the doctors would have to tell me, explain certain procedures and then I would have to take on the responsibility of deciding like, “OK, is this something you want to do, or…” So I believe in France, up until now ,… in France I stopped being a girl. I had to deal with surviving what happened and healing and stuff,” she said.
She disclosed to the Girls Narrative Project that prior to the incident, she had never really feared anything, because she always knew that her mother would be there for her, but after the incident, she became scared of a lot of things, including herself as she struggled to come to terms with how she had been changed due to the burns, and what it would mean returning to Antigua after such an ordeal.
When asked what some of the biggest challenges as a result of the changes to her body were, she said it was waking up everyday and having to accept that this was her new normal.
“You wake up and you have to come to terms that, “OK, Shaveesa, this is you. You’re not home and you have to be dealing with the challenges of how to learn to talk again, how to eat again, how to walk again. You have to deal with constant dressing changes, tears, the pain, the surgeries”.
There were times when I would cry, I would just cry. I wondered how life can be so cruel and what did I do to deserve this? It was hard. I would say being in France, and recovery was hard, but then coming back to Antigua, the first couple of months it was hard dealing with the publicity and everyone had their own opinions of me,” she said.
While in France, she said her father and wife came from Antigua to visit her and then later she found out that her country was also actively supporting her in her recovery, with a variety of funds, and walks and she was happy that her country had come together to help one of their own.
“It was overwhelming to know that people care and to know that once we stand together as a nation we can help one another and we can achieve whatever goal we set out to. So now that there’s a lot of news and media, different things happening, I know that despite whatever, that when the time comes when we have to stand together, to be there for one of our own, that it can happen,” she noted.
In the aftermath, Shaveesa said her maternal grandmother had been given temporary custody of her younger sister, while she lived with a foster aunt, but she also tried to reconnect with her mother who had been charged with grievous bodily harm, but the case was since dropped. She said rebuilding the connection with her mother was very hard, since growing up, she was the only one she was that close to and her actions still haunted her.
“Yes, I had my dad, but she was the only one there 24/7, we were always together. I loved her, I still love her so much, but that day changed a lot of things. It changed a lot of things for me because, there’s always this big question of, “how can someone you love so much hurt you so bad”? I even have these weird emotions where I would be lying in bed in France, and I was thinking, “I miss her so much, but why”? I would have this inner conflict with myself, “is this right? Is this wrong”? I struggled with that a lot. I still do, but I’m trying to come to terms with everything. I think we both are, but our relationship has changed a lot, I can say that. It’s hard, it’s hard,” she revealed.
Life after the incident, has taught Shaveesa that while there will be challenges to overcome; she is able to do so and still live a very full life. At the time of this interview she had won best actress, for the second time, and this cemented for her talents were not something that could be taken from her.
In many ways, Shaveesa is an inspiration to many other youths and shows her unique form of resistance, with her ability to raise herself from the ashes like the phoenix she admires, reconnect with her mother and also help others by becoming a Red Cross volunteer.
She defined her resistance as being strong and steadfast, standing firm in what you believe in, no matter the odds or what others tell you is not possible.
“Whatever you believe in, you stand firm in it, and you are not willing to compromise, and you stand for what you believe for. That’s what resistance means to me. Despite the odds, you fight for what you believe in,” she said.
Shaveesha lives her life to her ideals and hopes to inspire other girls to do the same, while fighting against society’s expectations and barriers for girls.
“I hope to be an inspiration to others, that they would feel determined, they won’t so easily give up. That they would be strong enough to go on, no matter what life throws at them. You know, they’d find that inner strength to push through; because that’s what keeps everyone going – an inner strength. That inner strength. I want to encourage persons to find that inner strength and to never let it go.” She said.
Author, Writer, Entrepreneur
Ashlee Cox is a multi-genre author and writer. She formerly worked for leading news outlets within the Caribbean, as a journalist, and is currently the lead writer on her blog ‘Ashlee Unscripted’.