Ochoa, 66, Still Standing with her Book

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‘My goal to get out of poverty, my only passport was my education’ – Maria Ochoa


By Sue-Ann Wayow

IT was test time for Maria Ochoa in Form Two at what used to be Ibis High School in San Fernando.

Anxiety welled up inside of the young girl as she thought about the essay she needed to write and the paper, she did not have to write it on.

Not letting her extreme poverty stop her, she wrote her essay on a big, old, brown paper bag that she cut and smoothened out with an iron heated in a fireside, folded the bag to make it look like a book and submitted that to her teacher.


“I was so embarrassed when it was time to give up, because everybody had their fancy exercise book, here was I with a piece of paper. Of course there were the children who jeered at me and made fun of me but I gave it up anyhow,” Ochoa, now 66, told AZP News recently.

She said, “I recall the teacher when she came to the class the next day, she became emotional. She read the essay to the class, she shared with them that it was the best essay because I got an ‘A’. She took me to the principal’s office where I was given a couple exercise books and a couple pens. I never forget that.”

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Ochoa, today, tells her story in her recently published book Still Standing.

Overcoming poverty as a child and financial challenges as an adult, domestic abuse, abandonment, attempted murder and other rocky trenches, Ochoa, a retired public servant and current school social support worker, can identify with some of the issues, children are dealing with in the 21st century.

In an interview with AZP News, Ochoa said she wanted to send a message to all, that education is indeed the way out of poverty.

To victims of domestic abuse, she understands that leaving a relationship is easier said than done, but she encourages that women can truly live and be set free from abusive hands.


Born in San Fernando in  1957 but spending her early years in rural La Lune, Moruga, Ochoa never had a relationship with her mother who left her when she was a young child and would only return to the home for short periods whenever she gave birth and could not even remember her children’s names.

With a father who worked at a steam laundry on Mucurapo Street, San Fernando, visiting occasionally. Ochoa, being the first girl out of 14 children – the third of the siblings, was forced into becoming the matriarch of the family before she was ten years old while still trying to enjoy her childhood. One other sibling came when Ochoa was much older.

Using her education opportunities as stepping stones, Ochoa became a Clerk 1 at the Ministry of Education and also acted in a Clerk 2 position in the finances and accounts division in 1979 after writing her civil service exam.


In her later years, she would feel the tug to pursue university degrees and completed a first degree in Behavioural Psychology at the University of the West Indies (UWI) in 1998, a Certificate in Social Work at UWI in 2000 and then a Bachelor of Science degree in Social Work at the University of the Southern Caribbean, in 2013.

Throughout her life, she always pursued enhancement courses.

Maria Ochoa

She told AZP News, in July she signed her final contract which will end in 2026 as she wanted to focus more on her family.

The mother of three adult children and four grandchildren credits all her success to God who she believes guided her to write her story.


 Ochoa said she has been blessed and wants to pass that blessing on to others.

“Success was always on the agenda for me… I was focused on getting out of this poverty,” she said.

Based at Marabella South Secondary School but responding to other schools in San Fernando, Ochoa said copies of her books were donated to those libraries as well as the NALIS library in Chaguanas as she really wants to encourage persons from teenagers to adults.

Ochoa said, “My goal to get out of poverty, my only passport was my education. We have a lot of social ills in our society that are affecting our student population. My book is on inspiration to know that yes, things might be gloomy today but that is not the end of it. When it is gloomy, that is when you have to become creative, be patient, focus on the importance of your education because that is the avenue that is going to put you in a better place.”

While there was always room for improvement, there were enough systems and opportunities in place for education to grow, she said and the major gap was between the home and the school.

“Unfortunately, some of our parents do not understand, neither do they see the value of education,” Ochoa lamented.

Some parents were extremely supportive of their children’s education however some children had to deal with situations in the home such as drugs, violence, poverty and abandonment. 

“We need to let parents know that they are their children’s first role models and they need to set the example. If you do your job well and you produce law abiding citizens who can make meaningful contributions to society there is no salary that could pay you for that but you have to put in the work,” she encouraged.

To those who have missed their education opportunities while young, Ochoa said Trinidad and Tobago had many educational opportunities and there are courses everywhere.

“It is not too late,” she said.

And to victims of domestic abuse, Ochoa said, “That does not have to be your life to continue along that path. If you stay in the abusive relationship, it continues. If you have children, your children are being traumatised. By staying, you run the risk of sustaining serious injuries or even losing your life. When you leave, you stand to benefit from some level of freedom.”

The idea to write a book came decades ago but had been in the planning stages for five years. Pen was put to paper in 2021 and  Standing Still was completed last year with Ochoa receiving her first official copy in March this year.

The book is available at Charran’s and Tales and Treasures in St James, Mohammed’s Bookstore at Gulf Link Rd in San Fernando, Amazon and can be purchased from the author at 734-4576.


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