Foundation working to alleviate poverty
With a quarter of Jamaican children living in poverty, according to the United Nation Children's Fund (UNICEF), one small non-profit organisation is doing its part to make a difference.
Founder and executive director of the Poverty Alleviation and Empowerment Foundation (PAEF), Pauline Gregory Lewis has been working to assist children whose schooling is being affected by financial challenges in the St Catherine area for the past five years.
Up to last year, the Foundation provided breakfast for almost 400 children in six basic and primary schools in the parish. The schools were McCauley's Primary, Old Harbour Bay Primary, Blackwood Gardens Basic, St Wade Basic, New Testament Basic and the 3D Projects Basic.
"We provided them with oats, milk, baked beans, frankfurters, bread, sugar, teabags and eggs, which included all the ingredients to make a hot, healthy breakfast," she said. "The food is prepared by the school and served to the children."
Lewis stated that PAEF received excellent feedback from the schools, noting that administrators said that student attendance increased significantly after the breakfast initiative began.
"Not only were they reporting an increase in school attendance, they also noted that students also started coming to school much earlier than before," Lewis said.
However, she pointed out that unfortunately, the programme was reduced to only one school in 2018 based on the Government's plan to introduce similar breakfast programmes in some of the institutions this year.
"We didn't want to duplicate our efforts. Therefore, we decided to use the funds in other areas of need," she explained.
However, Lewis said that many of the schools have reached out to her to indicate that the students are still in need of the PAEF breakfast programme.
PLANS TO EXPAND
"As a result, plans are now in place for us to resume the programme in four of the schools next year. And, hopefully, as we progress we will be able to expand it to more schools," she said.
In addition to the breakfast programme, PAEF also provides bursaries for primary-school students who are in need of financial assistance when they make the transition to high school.
Over the past four years, the foundation has provided more than $800,000 in grant funding to 54 students. The grant is provided to those students who attain a 75 per cent average or above in the Grade Six Achievement Test.
"We provide a bursary of $15,000 for each student. It may be small; however, the students and their parents are grateful for the assistance," Mrs Gregory Lewis said. "And, each year, we try to increase the number of students whom we can assist."
In the first year of the programme in 2015, the PAEF supported four students. In 2016, they had increased the number to nine beneficiaries, and in 2017, the support was extended to 20 students. This year, 21 students received grant funding.
"We are hoping to extend our support to 30 students next year," Lewis said. She also stated that once the students maintain their focus in school and achieve a B average in their grades, the foundation will continue to assist them.
"I believe that this is my calling," Lewis related, "Providing assistance to children in need was something I had to do. I recall the days when I was growing up and the challenges I encountered. Therefore, as an adult, it breaks my heart and brings tears to my eyes to see children suffer."
The PAEF, which is a not-for-profit organisation, is solely dependent on the donations and goodwill of corporate Jamaica and concerned citizens.
"We are forever grateful for the assistance we have received so far from several corporate companies and individual persons," she said.
In addition to its ongoing projects, the PAEF is gearing up to provide support to the Kiwanis Club's upcoming food-bank initiative, which is also being sponsored by the JN Bank.
"We will be donating non-perishable food items for the food bank, which is being spearheaded by the Kiwanis Division 23 East. The initiative will assist students at the Abilities Foundation of Jamaica and its surrounding environs," Lewis revealed.
The Abilities Foundation, located on Constant Spring Road in St Andrew, provides vocational education to persons with disabilities.
The food-bank initiative is the brainchild of Pam Rodney White, lieutenant governor for Division 23 East.
"There's a 40-foot container on the property, which we are going to use to store the food items, mostly non-perishables. We are now in the process of retrofitting the trailer so that, hopefully before Christmas, we can have it up and running," Rodney White said.
"The plan is to assist up to 250 persons, and we will increase that number over time," she added. "The food bank will also be incorporated in the curriculum at the Abilities Foundation, and students will receive training to assist in managing the facility."
Saniah Spencer, chief, marketing and product development, JN Bank, said that JN Bank, a member company of The Jamaica National Group, has given its commitment to support the PAEF project as the financial institution believes in working to eradicate poverty and empowering Jamaicans.
According to UNICEF, about a quarter of Jamaican children live in poverty, with the incidence and consequences of child poverty being more pronounced among female-headed households and children living with disabilities.