'Don't allow poverty to prevent you from achieving'

Career & Education

'Don't allow poverty to prevent you from achieving'

Bank employee stresses role of education in poverty alleviation

Sunday, August 25, 2019

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AT the risk of sounding clichéd, a junior banker took the opportunity last week to impress upon a cohort of young people from bauxite mining communities from South Manchester that education is the surest opportunity they will get to improve their lives and those of their families.

That banker was Karon Lewis, client relations officer for JN Bank in St Elizabeth. He was keynote speaker at JISCO Alpart Jamaica's Back-to-School Awards Ceremony for some 576 students from 32 communities, mainly in South Manchester. The event was held in partnership with the Manchester Plateau Community Council Benevolent Society and the Essex Valley Council at Bethabara Moravian Church in Newport, Manchester.

Beyond its well-known town capital, Mandeville, which has attracted many returned residents over the years, poverty is a real problem in several Manchester communities.

Data from the Planning Institute of Jamaica's (PIOJ) Survey of Living Conditions in 2012, the most recent conducted by the institute, indicate that 22.5 per cent of households in Manchester are poor.

Further study, presented by anthropologist Dr Herbert Gayle at a safety and security forum organised by the JN Group for its members in the parish earlier this year, showed varying incidences of poverty in several communities across the parish. For example, in communities such as Victoria Town, on the parish's southern border with Clarendon, as much as 70 per cent of its households live in poverty; while May Day, in the central parts, records a poverty prevalence of 13 per cent.

But Lewis, the 2014 Governor-General's Award recipient for the parish of St Elizabeth, argued that with investment in education, the statistics can change.

“I recognised from early that education was my only way out of poverty,” said the 25-year-old, who grew up on the pastoral lands of Green Olive, Bull Savannah in southern St Elizabeth. He recalled how his parents' (a housewife and mason) investment in his education placed him in a position to be able to contribute to their welfare, while pursuing his own life, today.

“I decided that I might be poor, but I am not less than anybody else,” he said.

That was what he often told himself in the face of scarcity and financial difficulty, while attending Munro College. There, he excelled, becoming head prefect, president of the Debating Society, and class valedictorian, prior to matriculating to The University of the West Indies, where he earned a degree in economics and international relations.

“Education is the most powerful tool you can use to change your life and your circumstances,” Lewis told the beneficiaries, paraphrasing the words of the late, former president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela.

“Do not, on any day of the week, allow poverty to prevent you [from achieving]. It should instead propel you to prosper,” he charged. “Therefore, as you move towards your next academic milestone, whether you're starting high school, sixth form or university, I urge you to strive for excellence, by setting high standards for yourself. And I promise you that your hard work will pay off in the future.”

Lewis' message was echoed by Michael Stewart, Member of Parliament for South Manchester, who on behalf of the young people, thanked JISCO Alpart for the scholarships valued at $5.4 million.

“We have always said that the fundamental cure for poverty is not money, but education,” he underscored. “And once you have a sound education, the sky is the limit.”

Zhang Jun, managing director, JISCO Alpart, said the company remains committed to the communities of South Manchester and South St Elizabeth, highlighting that it has quadrupled its investment in the education of young people from these communities, since JISCO took over ownership of Alpart's operations in 2016.

That year, 1,000 students from the infant to tertiary levels in south Manchester and South St Elizabeth were awarded scholarships and grants. This year, more than 2,200 have received assistance from an allotment of $20 million.

“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself,” Zhang quipped, quoting the words of the American philosopher and education reformer John Dewey.

“Work hard at your studies, as the boundaries are endless and Jamaica's future is in your hands,” he charged.


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