Mark Titus, Gleaner Writer
Western Bureau:The one-room shack, shared with his mother and two younger brothers in Lacovia, St Elizabeth, is what 17-year-old Hodari Phillips has called home for most of his life.
With his present circumstances in mind, the Black River High School sixth-former is determined to one day take his family out of a life of poverty.
Hodari's father died when he was six years old, leaving his sickly mother, Nadine Rust, alone to care for her children.
"My father died but I want to make him proud even in death. I want to make something good with my life," said Hodari as he spoke with The Sunday Gleaner at his school last week.
"I have seen a lot of young people turning to a life of crime, but that is not what I intend for myself. I want a good education so I can help my family out of our present condition."
When The Sunday Gleaner visited the home last week, it was hard to imagine how Hodari gained eight Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate passes under his circumstances.
In fact, not only was the space inadequate, but he slept on the floor because of a severe back problem that sometimes affected his school attendance.
"The hard floor helps to ease the pain, which can be very severe at times. Sometimes I don't even sleep," Hodari explained. "Oftentimes, I lay there listening to my mother crying in the early mornings."
According to this unassuming young Christian, the environment posed some challenges in his preparation for exams, but he persevered.
"It was a little hectic to study because it is a one room, and you can easily get distracted. Even the use of the light was a problem at times because it would affect my mother's migraine; she is very sickly. But I would light a candle, try to remain focused and fight on."
Unable to work, Rust depends on the Government's Programme of Advancement Through Health and education to fund even a portion of the bus fare to school for her children.
TOWER OF STRENGTH
"Hodari is a tower of strength. Sometimes he goes to school with only his fare, and I am certain that no one knows he has not eaten. He never complains," Rust said. "He went to school for three months with cardboard inside his shoes to protect his feet from the asphalt, and no one knew about it."
She added: "Sometimes we can only afford bread and a tin of mackerel, but he has never frowned nor complained. Hodari is always trying to encourage me."
While concentrating on his academics Hodari, who is a prefect at school, also serves as an officer of his school's Inter-School Christian Fellowship group, and is part of the quiz and debate clubs.
While many young men might be wary of making certain details of their personal lives public, Hodari believed it was possible he could make a positive impact with his story.
"It is not only about me. I am sure there are hundreds of students out there with challenges, so it might serve to motivate them," he reasoned.
None of his schoolmates knew of the challenges he faces on a daily basis, nor what goes on behind the welcoming smile that greets those in his presence.
In fact, his classmates described him as the one who always has a positive outlook on any given situation, always encouraging someone.
"He is humble, always willing to listen and give encouragement. He is a true example," said classmate Kimoy Maxam
However, after Hodari began missing several sessions, because of his numerous challenges, his form teacher expressed her concerns to the school's vice-principal, Claudine Williamson-Daley, who launched an investigation into the matter.
"I was troubled by what I saw on my first visit, and knew that something had to be done for him," said Williamson-Daley.
Williamson-Daley's husband, Charlton Daley, an evangelist whose outreach programme, Special Effects Ministry, is based on the south coast, offered Hodari a place to stay while other forms of assistance were sought.
"I am very grateful for the support from my church, and especially Evangelist Daley and Mrs Daley," said Hodari, who wants to become a medical doctor and pastor. "Having known the life of poverty, I am determined that my later years will be progressive."
He added: "I told myself that there must be better somewhere, and the way to find better is through education."
For those students going through similar experiences, Hodari said: "First of all, put God first. Use your situation as a driving force in your life to know that you want better for yourself, and the better way to come out of that is through education, so persevere, you will make it."