Editorial

Hunger, the beast within, will slay us

Monday, October 28, 2019

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Jamaica is no bed of roses, everyone knows that.

Nonetheless, stories such as that of students at Jamaican universities who have to be scrounging around and begging for food, literally starving, jar the nerves to no end.

Yet, it's not as if we should be surprised.

We know, for example, that at the lower end of the education system there are children who go to school only two or three days per week, sometimes not at all, because their parents are unable to find transportation or lunch money.

In some cases, such impoverished families have fallen through the 'cracks' to such an extent that they are not even registered on the State's welfare programme, the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH). In many cases, there are people so crippled by extreme ignorance and hopelessness, they have no idea what to do to get on PATH.

Then there are some whose children lose PATH benefits such as subsidised lunches at school because of the stipulation requiring regular attendance.

School attendance often becomes irregular precisely because parents simply do not have the money to pay transportation costs. That's especially in cases where there are several children, with some needing to take multiple buses/taxis.

Ironically, the children with the lowest marks in the high school entrance exam are typically placed in schools furthest away from home, since low marks prevent access to schools of first choice.

In such ways, the vicious cycle of the poor becoming poorer is nurtured.

Yesterday's Sunday Observer tells of a student pursuing management studies at The University of the West Indies. He is a beneficiary of a tuition scholarship but has no money to survive, and as a result has to constantly make “new friends” in order to get help.

We are told that he has had to constantly move from one depressed area to another in Kingston. Our reporter tells us that our subject has the experience of living on the streets, sleeping on floors, and finding shelter in a church when he and his mother had nowhere else to go.

We are told that “On a typical day, he ... begs for money in order to purchase meals and toiletries. When that does not work he resorts to bearing the hunger pains while navigating the terrains of higher education.

“He has had to think of unique ways to ensure he attends classes. These include sleeping in the library and spending time in the campus accommodation of friends — a common practice, akin to squatting, which is prohibited.”

The subject tells us that he is not alone. There are others, most of whom will not speak out because of pride and other considerations. We accept his assertion that many students drop out of university because of such hardships.

In the circumstances, help from the business community, which we are told is happening, is welcome.

But clearly there is need for an overarching effort involving corporate Jamaica and charitable groups in partnership with Government to help students — not just at the university and college level but at younger age-group levels.

Ultimately, such an effort amounts to enlightened self-interest — part of the drive to build a stable, prosperous and contented society.

Our subject illustrates the situation best, we think.

Says he: “What's the sense you are going to university and leave with a personality not marketable because you had to stay in a corner trying to figure out life and not truly getting the chance to interact and develop? You might not see hunger as a factor, but it plays a role. If I am hungry the last thing I may be thinking about is being sociable.”


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