‘Yuh cyah learn if yuh hungry’ - Stakeholders mull maintaining critical access to meals for welfare students
Aware of the challenges facing some families, with many students receiving their only meals for the day at school, school administrators are concerned that the new COVID-19 learning environment could see many going hungry and unable to concentrate and grasp lessons. With the economic blow dealt by the pandemic further worsening many families’ financial problems, administrators are hoping to devise sustainable means of feeding Jamaica’s neediest students.
“My heart is bleeding right now,” Old Harbour High School headmaster Lynton Weir told a Gleaner Editors’ Forum last Thursday.
“A lot of our students, the only meal they consume for the day is the meal that we provide at school, and I’m very, very concerned that if we’re not able to return to school come October 5, there are many students who are going to be left hungry,” he continued.
Weir, who also heads the Association of Principals and Vice-Principals, pointed out that in planning for the reopening of schools, whether lessons would be delivered online or face to face, the nutritional needs of students should be a priority.
“We will now have to be creative in our thinking, and right now, I’m thinking in overdrive,” he said. “How is it that we are going to reach those students so they can get the benefit? My heart is bleeding because I know a lot of our students, when we provide them with a lunch in the day, we have to provide them with a second one to take home for family members because that’s the reality.”
He said that the Government has deposited funds into school accounts for the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) beneficiaries, and a percentage of his school’s budget has been allocated to welfare.
Normally, school canteens would prepare meals for PATH beneficiaries and welfare students identified by guidance counsellors.
The troubling situation is also of concern to Mitsie Harris-Dillon, interim president of the National Parent-Teacher Association of Jamaica (NPTAJ), who said that welfare programmes are usually funded by parent-teacher associations, school administrators, and stakeholder groups.
She said that the NPTAJ will be seeking to form partnerships with the private sector for the upcoming year to reach as many students as possible.
The association will also keep a close watch on the education ministry’s plans for welfare students and PATH beneficiaries to “ensure that everybody receives a meal because yuh cyah learn if yuh hungry, and we are aware of this concern”, she said.