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Born to fail? Selling education to the chronically poor

By the time she turned fifteen, Shameka had had five lovers. Her latest suitor, Gregory, is 62, wealthy, married, and deeply connected in the local political landscape. A long-time family friend, Gregory is considered a godsend shouldering much of the financial burdens of Shameka's schooling, even contributing the much-needed weekly lunch monies and bus fares for her four younger siblings.

In the inner-city community where Shameka resides, Gregory is respected for his wealth and connections, and this collective deference is automatically passed on to Shameka and her family. The relationship has elevated her status in the community, making her worthy of respect in an environment where money is an elusive commodity and the most common ways to acquire it is either through dealing drugs, selling sex, offering political favours, or getting involved in criminal activity.

Precious, Shameka's mother, is proud of her daughter who has not only passed her GSAT exams to enter one of the top high schools in Kingston, but has done well in attracting a man of Gregory's prestige. A single mother with five children, she is relieved to be getting some sort of financial support given that the minimum wages she earns as a domestic helper is barely enough to find food for her children.

Precious remembers when, barely past Shameka's age, she got pregnant for the first time and had to drop out of school. She regrets that Shameka's father, Teddy, a boy from her community denied fathering the child which meant she had to raise Shameka all by herself. She sometimes wishes that Shameka's father, who was killed by the police in a robbery attempt six years ago, was around to witness how well his daughter has turned out.

She worries about the future of her children, but feels confident that with Gregory's assistance Shameka will be able to complete her schooling and eventually move out of the community. She cautions Shameka against getting pregnant as that would mean she would be expelled from school, but at the same time, she is glad that Gregory has the financial means to be able to provide for the child.

A Familiar Tale: Chronic Poverty as a Barrier to Education

Sadly, Shameka's story is not uncommon in many poor communities in Jamaica. Young girls like Shameka who are born and bred into a perpetual cycle of poverty are often robbed of their youths as they are thrust, often from as early as nine or ten years old, into positions of responsibility, fending for themselves and their families.

Whilst it is generally accepted that investing in education is one of the most effective ways to reduce poverty, this understanding hasn't necessarily resonated within the mindsets of some of the poorest citizens who are generally exploited by a system that forces them to barter themselves or their children in an effort to survive. The general moral values of society ultimately become insufficient to combat the gripping tentacles of poverty where in many cases, children and especially girls become victims of circumstance.

Chronic poverty undermines the abilities of families to place sufficient emphasis on education, in a system where education, in practice, remains a commodity. Prohibitive tuition fees, high costs of textbooks and schools supplies, daily lunch monies, and bus fares or other transportation fees, make education a secondary priority for many parents who are struggling to find food and shelter for themselves and their children. Inspite of the general wisdom that the education of girls has a far-reaching impact in reducing inter-generational poverty, a girl's education is often readily sacrificed in the pursuit of economic gain.

Recognizing the Value of an Educated Girl:

For developing countries like Jamaica, the challenge remains not only to promote the education of girls as the most viable means to escape poverty, but to significantly reduce the barriers to acquiring an education especially for families which are at or below the poverty line. The challenge remains to annihilate the myths and misconceptions that girls are commodities to be bartered in exchange for financial or other gain.

An educated girl is better able to provide for her family in the long-run, to participate and make greater contributions to the labour force, and to plan and better prepare for child-rearing than one who is not. The contributions of an educated girl to sustainable development is critical and invaluable. Girls like Shameka have the promise and the ability to escape the grip of poverty and to wrest from the exploitative tentacles of those who will stunt her growth.

Interventions at the school and community levels are necessary to empower such girls, women, and their families to recognize the incalculable value that girls have. Moreover, an adequate legislative framework is needed to protect young girls from predatory adults who aim to exploit their vulnerabilities.

This story was written for World Pulse’s Girls Transform the World Digital Action Campaign.

World Pulse believes that women's stories, recommendations, and collective rising leadership can—and will—bring girls greater access to education which will transform their lives, their families, and communities. The Girls Transform Campaign elicits insightful content from young women on the ground, strengthens their confidence as women, and ensures that influencers and powerful institutions hear their stories.
Learn more »

Comments

Klaudia Mexico's picture

how striking was to read "

how striking was to read " Young girls like Shameka who are born and bred into a perpetual cycle of poverty are often robbed of their youths as they are thrust, often from as early as nine or ten years old, into positions of responsibility, fending for themselves and their families"!!!

I'm sure, raising our voices shall make some impact in our communities to reach those girls.
We´re with you to change their destinies.
Klaudia

Klaudia González

Klaudia González

IamTruth's picture

Hi Klaudia: I am always happy

Hi Klaudia:

I am always happy when you take the time to both read and comment on my post. Thank you for the support.

Much love,

Al

Klaudia Mexico's picture

likewise

We´re such a great learning-teaching comunitty. The pleasure is mine, i always learn something by means of your words.
Mexican hug
Klaudia

Klaudia González

mjose3's picture

It is sad to read stories

It is sad to read stories like this. I often wonder when men like these have children would they like them to be treated the same way by men like them?

Lisa

surfgirl-CA's picture

good point, Lisa!

You know, here in the States lately, there have been at least 2 Senators (legislators from a specific state elected to the national governing body, the Congress -- like a parliament) who have found they have gay children in their families and who NOW support gay marriage. It's a bit of a joke here currently. Becz it points up the fact that ppl are swayed most by their personal experiences & investments. Unless "Gregory" is a completely unethical person, I suspect he wld NOT want the same for his own dtr. In the States, we call these men pedophiles if the girl is under 18. Shame on him for making THIS the deal a young women feels she has to make.

surfgirl-CA --
When we come from the willingness to love, not fear, we will see the best and highest materialize in our world.
Quand nous venons à partir de la volonté à l'amour, pas la peur, nous allons voir le meilleur et le plus élevé se matérialise

IamTruth's picture

You know Lisa, these human

You know Lisa, these human predators run the gamut from those who force their disgusting activities on other people's children, to those who enact their twisted fantasies on their own children. It is beyond sad. I just wish that everybody could at once be awakened to the realities of the dangers children and young people face out there and take every precaution to prevent them. Maybe one day.

Al

Monica09's picture

Important observations

Dear Al,

You highlighted a very important issue in this post: the poverty trap and how it impedes education in numerous ways. It is also common in Bangladesh to marry off young girls in the hope of securing a better future for them, but quite the opposite happens in most cases.

Does Jamaica have a national program that provides education for free to the underprivileged? If yes, what (other than forced marriage and child labour) keeps girls like Shameka from reaping the benefits of such a free-education program, if any?

Keep sharing your experiences!

Best wishes,
Monica

IamTruth's picture

Hi Monica: Thank you for

Hi Monica:

Thank you for reading and responding.

Education at the primary level, and to some extent, the secondary level, is in principle, supposed to be free. However, the supplementary costs are what makes it very expensive and quite burdensome for many families. So a primary school child doesn't pay tuition, or as we say, 'school' fees. However, that child is mandated to wear a school uniform (including tunics/blouses/pants, socks, specific shoes, hair accessories, etc), bag, textbooks and school supplies which his/her parent must buy. In addition, there is no free lunch at any of the school levels, not even a subsidized programme, so parents must provide daily snack and lunch monies for their children. They must also find bus fares for children who have to commute to and from school by bus/taxi as there is no state-sponsored free bus service for them.

At the high school level, the school fees may be nominal, but the supplemental fees can be pressuring for families, especially given the extensive book lists that students are given. The costs of these books are not subsidized and worse yet, they seem to change every year.

So, these are some the things that place parents under tremendous financial stress at the start of every school year (and throughout the year), and as I said in my piece add an extra burden to families who are barely able to manage on a daily basis to put food on their tables.

Monica09's picture

Thank you for the explanation!

Thank you for shedding more light on free education programs in your country!

Indeed, the extra financial burden of these programs on the beneficiaries is enormous. It is the same scenario in Bangladesh where poor families have to bear the costs of transportation and educational supplies. Child labour and forced marriage are common problems here.

Social norms (which makes it mandatory for women to be at home and to be less-achieving) and street harassment are key problems in Bangladesh. There is also a growing need to make the education relevant to the job market and to improve both the quantity and quality of teachers in these programs.

While some social service organizations provide food and stipends to reduce drop-outs because of poverty, others take education to homes by teaching underprivileged students wherever they are located, reducing drop-outs due to street harassment or commuting problems.

William's picture

girls education

Hi Al, thank you for your article. It brings up several issues that are common in all countries: father's reluctances to spend money educating girls; pressure put upon girls at an early age that isn't put upon boys; the abuse that young girls may encounter when they marry too young. To me it all spells out: female abuse. I was blessed with three daughters and encouraged them all to finish school before getting married. I think you need to work with men (father's) and their attitude about the value of girls in general and their daughters in particular. Good luck with your future work.

IamTruth's picture

Hi William: Thank you for

Hi William:

Thank you for your listening ear. I agree that systems of patriarchy are dominant in most societies across the world, and manifest in the attitudes and behaviours we have both described. Gosh, don't we wish it weren't so? It's great when men, such as you, adopt a more progressive approach to parenting. I wish there was a concerted male-led effort to revolutionize men's thinking. I'm sure I would join. :) But in the meantime, I agree that we as women must collectively continue to challenge the patriarchal mindset in our communities.

Best,

Al

surfgirl-CA's picture

Great title to your piece!

Loved your article. You hit the heart, the story & the issues well. Seems to me that one way to look at the dilemma you describe -- how to help ppl invest in education when other demands are more pressing -- which is sort of a cultural exercise in delayed 'gratification,' if you could use that word -- is to find a way for education to support their families' economic problems WHILE the girls are in school. I realize this is impossible, when the gov. can hardly underwrite free edu., let alone uniforms, books, computers & even school lunches. I wish someone would find grant money to make a pilot project like this happen, so the families could see directly that education PAYS. Finally, Shimeka would be one of the ones who could help the entire society -- a terrible shame if she is wasted on a nasty 62 yr old man that fraternizes w/ young girls. Sorry to say "nasty,' but, really!!!

surfgirl-CA --
When we come from the willingness to love, not fear, we will see the best and highest materialize in our world.
Quand nous venons à partir de la volonté à l'amour, pas la peur, nous allons voir le meilleur et le plus élevé se matérialise

IamTruth's picture

Education as investment

Dear Surfgirl:

Thank you for responding so positively to my article. You've made such a valuable point that education should be viewed as an investment with viable returns in terms of reducing poverty at the individual household level, but that government is constrained by limited budgets, etc. I think the focus must also be on the quality of education, and improving the external conditions in the environment that inhibit children's ability to acquire a sound education. I also think that if we the citizens demanded a better system, and greater inclusion in the decision-making process, rather than passively accepting what is meted out, then the outcomes would be different. But, sadly, we haven't begun to do that yet.

Al

surfgirl-CA's picture

I hear you.

it's too bad the gov. can't give families a stipend for keeping their kids in school. That might help.

yeah... all true what you say, but I think the immediacy of family pressure and the requirements to survive will often trump however much easier we make it for kids to access edu. Re. your other point, demanding inclusion in policy decisions re. edu., I think of where this country (U.S.) was at in the 50s-60s -- I know you wld not disagree that it's hard for ppl who have little edu., time or sense of self-actualization to think that they can stand up to the big guys. It took the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. & his colleagues to help African-Americans find the way & the courage to get their civil rights (which ppl still keep trying to take away from them). Leaders need the People, causes need leaders. Just like Ghandi. Mandela. An Sung Suu Khy. Someone to believe in them & enable them.

For such an advanced species, we still never seem to be able to see past the short term. I look forward to economists developing models that actually figure in the REAL costs & benefits of what we are doing now & how we cld be doing things with a higher consciousness. e.g., Governments don't seem to take into account the actual costs of environmental degradation in the long term, or even the immediate hidden costs. Ditto the waste & harm to a society when girls like Shimeka drop out, get pregnant, lose the daddy or get co-opted by old men.

surfgirl-CA --
When we come from the willingness to love, not fear, we will see the best and highest materialize in our world.
Quand nous venons à partir de la volonté à l'amour, pas la peur, nous allons voir le meilleur et le plus élevé se matérialise

IamTruth's picture

...

Boy oh boy, I know so many people here would be truly motivated by that stipend! Really. The only flip side is that it would further encourage the dependency mentality that has taken root in the minds of many people. But overall, yeah, this would be a good incentive.

I love your quote: "Leaders need people, causes need leaders." So very true. People shun positions of leadership for all kinds of reasons, especially when it requires going against the grain. Sometimes the sacrifice seems too great. Sometimes (as I sometimes do), we focus on our inadequacies rather than stepping out in faith. But again, you are right. The power of community can certainly to dissolve those feelings.

So good hearing your feedback.

IamTruth's picture

...

Boy oh boy, I know so many people here would be truly motivated by that stipend! Really. The only flip side is that it would further encourage the dependency mentality that has taken root in the minds of many people. But overall, yeah, this would be a good incentive.

I love your quote: "Leaders need people, causes need leaders." So very true. People shun positions of leadership for all kinds of reasons, especially when it requires going against the grain. Sometimes the sacrifice seems too great. Sometimes (as I sometimes do), we focus on our inadequacies rather than stepping out in faith. But again, you are right. The power of community can certainly to dissolve those feelings.

So good hearing your feedback.

LeenieT's picture

Victims of Circumstance

Thanks for your article, Al.

Hoping you can share what kinds of opportunities young women who finish high school have in Jamaica? Are there any structures in place that help educated girls re-invest their knowledge into their communities?

Kind regards,

Lena

IamTruth's picture

Thank you for reading and

Thank you for reading and commenting, Leenie T. In response to your first question, the typical route for most students after high school is seeking entry into the job-market. Statistics indicate that only around 20% of high school graduates enter tertiary institutions. More than 60% of them are girls, however. So girls continue to outnumber boys significantly in levels of educational attainment. Ironically, however, men still dominate in key executive positions, on private and statutory boards rooms, and in politics... No, as far as I know, there aren't any official structures in place that target educated women in particular, or men, for that matter, to reinvest knowledge into their communities... Community development initiatives fall under the purview of the Ministry of Local Government and other state agencies like the Social Development Commission. However, it has been civic organisations, non-governmental, and private organisations that have successfully implemented community development projects in the past.

I hope this helps to shed some light on the situation here in Jamaica a little bit better. And also thank you for your interest.

Best Regards,

AL.

LeenieT's picture

Thanks!

Thank you, AL, for following up with additional information. Very helpful in gaining a better idea of both short and long-term implications of educational system.

All the best,

Lena

annabeth's picture

Hi, I am also from Jamaica.

Hi,

I am also from Jamaica. Selling sex as a means for survival is truly one of the worst consequences of poverty. I agree with you that reducing (eventually eliminating) the barriers to education is one of the sure ways to break our people out of this poverty trap that has gripped our poor for generations. Thank you for your post. You represent Jamaica well..

Best,
Anna

IamTruth's picture

Thank you for listening

Thank you for listening Annabeth! I am very inspired by your last comment. I'm also happy to know that there are others (such as yourself) from Jamaica who share the passion and the drive to want to make a difference. So much to be done, my sister.

Kindest,
AL.
(IamTruth)

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