Despite all the challenges life had for her, Jacquie Mvula always kept going, by her own example, proving that nothing is impossible.
Born and raised in Estevan, Jacquie gave a new meaning to the common image of a small-town girl.
On March 4, Jacquie opened her third Sun Country Hearing clinic in Moosomin. A successful entrepreneur, professional audiologist, caring mother and wife, this resilient and incredibly strong woman also established a charitable foundation to support kids in Malawi, and keeps a blog about her life and style, sharing her insights and experiences to inspire and support others.
Within our Women of Estevan special, the Mercury talked to Jacquie about her life, business, passions and interests.
Jacquie’s life started in Estevan, the city she loves and appreciates. But a tragedy that happened earlier in life saw her leaving Saskatchewan for Alberta for several years. When Jacquie was 18, she was in a car accident in which her best friend was killed. Physical traumas received in the crash weren’t treated properly and left her living with severe pain.
After many months of dealing with it, Jacquie finally found out that one of the bones in her leg that was broken in the accident never healed and all that time she was walking on a pin. It was fixed, but later broke again, and never returned to normal, serving as a hard reminder of the tragedy.
But physical pain was not the only problem. Left untreated, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression (PTSD), which weren’t diagnosed until many years later, partially because of Jacquie’s goal-oriented nature and high-functionality, have been a personal cargo that she’s been battling and carrying through life ever since.
“I wasn’t doing well. I didn’t understand that it was depression and PTSD at the time. It took me 16 years to get a diagnosis for that. But I ended up just taking off. I went to Alberta with a friend and was just trying to get away from all the bad memories of that or the good memories of her.
“I was in Alberta for seven years. I did all sorts of things. I was a driving instructor. I just did stuff like that, but I was just having fun in my 20s.
“Then I started to think. I knew the depression was getting bad, and one day I said to myself, ‘Jacquie, if you could do anything in the world, money doesn’t matter, time doesn’t matter, nothing, what do you think would make you happy?’
“It was like three seconds and I went, ‘You got to go back to school.’ I didn’t even have to think, I just knew,” Jacquie recalled.
Something that could break others, ended up making Jacquie stronger and stronger. She already had her first year at Minot State University, and at the age of 27, she decided to go back to school and not only complete her bachelor of science but also get a master’s.
“I sold everything I had, except my dad had to buy my car, because you couldn’t get a student loan if you had a car. So my dad bought my car, and then let me use it. I got a student loan and I put myself through it. It took me till I was 32,” recalled Jacquie.
She chose audiology as her major – a decision that feels right even now.
“I’m so glad that I ended up in audiology. I love it … People are fascinating. Probably my favourite part is getting to know people because I feel like I’ve been through enough in my life, both good and bad. And sometimes I can relate really well,” Jacquie said.
While in university, Jacquie met her husband-to-be.
Isaac, who was born in Malawi, was pursuing his degree at Minot State as well. After dating for a few years, the couple decided to get married. Not too many people know the struggle it takes to be a family when the immigration process sticks between the two who love each other, but Jacquie and Isaac were able to overcome it and came first to Alberta and soon back to Saskatchewan, where the new wave of life adventures or challenges was awaiting them.
Becoming a business owner wasn’t much of a choice, as soon after the university Isaac got a job in Stettler, Alta., a small town with no hearing clinic for Jacquie to work at. By then the family had two young kids, and soon Jacquie’s entrepreneurial path began.
“It was definitely scary,” recalls Jacquie.
Now, 11 successful years into the business, Jacquie feels much better, but their progress never stops, as the company keeps improving and implementing new technologies all the time.
When the family decided to come back to Jacquie’s hometown, they knew that they would be opening a clinic here. Not too long after Estevan’s Sun Country Hearing clinic welcomed its first customers, Jacquie expanded to Yorkton.
While COVID has definitely made it more difficult for clients with hearing problems, Jacquie said she appreciates that they leave more time to each client now due to cleaning protocols.
The growth of the business and professionalism went in parallel with personal development. Jacquie added a new part to her life when she started a personal blog named Just A Small Town Girl. This hobby reflects Jacquie’s appreciation for beautiful clothes and especially exclusive shoes.
“I love colour. Not very often do you find me in black. I like contrast, like black and white, or black and hot pink. Mostly, I like bright colour … I love patterns. And I love dresses. In summer, all I want to do is throw on a sundress and fancy sandals and I’m set,” Jacquie said.
But even more importantly, the blog gives room to share Jacquie’s personal experiences, which may support or inspire others during their trying times and help them maintain or regain their mental health.
“I’ve lived with (mental health issues) longer than I haven’t. So, to me, there are two big things that have helped me. One was the person who finally diagnosed me, telling me how strong I was when I always have felt weak … The other thing is that when I realized I wasn’t the only one, that there were so many people like me out there.'”
Jacquie added that while her depression resulted from the tragic accident a long time ago, up to these days some smaller things can spark memories and trigger the reaction. However, her personal experience suggests that working with depression, addressing it and finding ways around the triggers helps manage life.
And for Jacquie, original clothes and unique shoes serve as one of the small tricks that help her cope with life on tougher days.
“Sometimes I’ll wake up in the morning, and I’m like, ‘Ugh, this is the worst.’ So what do you do? You match your bra and underwear, wear your favourite shoes and wear your favourite outfit.”
The blog naturally became a part of Jacquie’s life, it helped her get stronger and it also gives her a new experience, joy and satisfaction.
“I feel like even if one person gets something from a story, then I help someone. I don’t need a million people to read it … Part of it was to share my story without telling people what to think. It is just like, ‘If she can do it, so can I because she’s just a small-town girl. She grew up in the same town as me. And she went back and got a master’s degree at 27. That’s weird. But I can do that.’
“You don’t need to come from a rich family, and you don’t need to be brilliant, and you don’t need to be gorgeous. You can set a goal and do whatever you want to do.”
By their own example, the Mvulas family keeps proving that. Before COVID hit, her family was able to make one of their long-time dreams come true.
“My husband’s from Malawi. But even though we’ve been together 20 years this year, I had never been to his home country until last December.”
The trip to Isaac’s motherland gave a start to another beautiful puzzle piece in the Mvulas’ life. That eye-opening experience inspired Jacquie, who’s been involved with volunteering before, to start the Mvula Foundation Inc.
“I don’t think people here understand what life in the village is like because even with 19 years of preparation, I didn’t understand what that was like,” recalled Jacquie. “People carry water on their heads. People don’t have toilets. Nobody even has underwear. Babies don’t have diapers. Kids don’t have shoes.”
“And the whole time I was in Malawi, it was overwhelming because you can’t help everybody … I needed to do something that will last long term. So, I picked the school.”
When a little kid, who was wandering around their house, said that he wasn’t at school because his family couldn’t afford to pay under C$2 per semester, Jacquie knew she had to do something. The family started a foundation, a lengthy process, which will help kids in Isaac’s home village have all they need to get through school.
The bigger project includes providing kids with basic school and personal necessities, as well as installing showers that would help maintain good hygiene, supplying students with hot breakfast, securing funds to ensure they can get through the full schooling cycle, installing a glass roof to allow for some light in the building that doesn’t have electricity and getting a solar panel to have light at the library. The foundation is still at its early stages, and Jacquie hopes it will do well.
Sun Country Hearing now employs five people and will have six soon. And Mvula and her family keep moving forward, successfully matching the life puzzle pieces and gently balancing between different spheres of their life. And Jacquie said that their mutual adaptation to each others’ needs is one of the key elements of their success.
The business that employs both Jacquie and Isaac also follows the same rules of partnership.
“I couldn’t do what I’m doing without him doing what he’s doing,” Jacquie said.
Hobbies, new projects and memories and dreams about past and future travels make Jacquie’s happy life, still sometimes shaded with clouds of depression, complete.
More about Jacquie Mvula’s life story can be found in her blog at just-a-small-town-girl.ca or in her Instagram @justasmalltowngirlsk.