Feature
Mayor of May Pen and Councillor for the Rocky Point Division in Clarendon, Winston Maragh.
Photo: Donald De La Haye

Story Highlights

  • While all financial aid have their own set of eligibility requirements that must be met in order to be considered for the benefits, the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development has an education grant to assist parents and students in preparing for back to school, the prerequisite for which is the need for assistance.
  • “We have seen where students have come back and said ‘thank you’ and students have been posted (employed) because of the benefits of the programme. In most of the communities, education is the only way out for a lot of these students; so it is going to be important that we provide the basis for the assistance,” he adds.
  • For her part, two-time grant beneficiary, 25-year-old Leisha Thomas, says the provision helped to finance her tertiary education. She recently completed a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology at the University of the West Indies.

As the 2020/21 academic year beckons, several parents and students would have applied for varying forms of financial assistance to help cushion the challenges associated with the purchasing of books and uniforms, and payment of tuition or fees.

While all financial aid have their own set of eligibility requirements that must be met in order to be considered for the benefits, the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development has an education grant to assist parents and students in preparing for back to school, the prerequisite for which is the need for assistance.

The facility was initiated four years ago by the then newly-minted Portfolio Minister, Hon. Desmond McKenzie, as one of three social programme interventions for Councillors to help residents in their Divisions.

“I noticed that Members of Parliament would have an opportunity, through their Constituency Development Fund (CDF), to have an allocation to [help] with their constituencies in back-to-school assistance. So we introduced, for the first time, three social programmes for Councillors. One was the housing assistance programme, the second one was a funeral grant [while] the third component was the education grant,” he tells JIS News.

Mr. McKenzie says the provision commenced with a $300,000 allocation per Division.

He points, however, that based on the demand on the programme, the sum was increased to $500,000.

“What it does is it goes a far way to assist students in paying school fees, [and] buying books [and] uniforms. So the [aim] of it is to reach to a certain sector of the communities that are represented by the Councillors who require assistance for back to school,” the Minister further outlines.

The programme, which is administered through the Poor Relief Department in each Municipal Corporation, sees payments being made directly to the chosen institution, mainly schools and bookstores, on behalf of applicants.

May Pen Mayor and Councillor for the Rocky Point Division in Clarendon, Winston Maragh, shares the two-fold nature of the selection process.

“The Ministry [sends] out an online [application] form that we have to fill out with the information of the [student] recipient and the parent. That has to be submitted to the Ministry and then the funds will flow from that. The Poor Relief Departments then do their checks [and] go through… the information to [ensure] that these [applicants] are really in need,” he outlines.

Mr. Maragh emphasises that selections are not done on a partisan basis, pointing out that, “in my case, people call from time to time seeking assistance… so I choose from that list; it is first come, first served”.

The Mayor further informs that in relation to book purchases, vouchers are given to individuals who are directed to stores across the parish with which arrangements have been forged for them to accept these in lieu of immediate cash payments.

For school fees and tuition, a status letter confirming the child as a student of the specified institution and the sum of the fee must be submitted for review.

The Poor Relief Department is then tasked with determining how much can be contributed towards the fee, based on the number of applicants for that year’s $500,000 allocation.

Mr. McKenzie says while the Councillors and Poor Relief Departments are not able to assist every applicant, quite a few persons have benefitted from the grant.

“I would say the programme would have touched more than 20,000 students over the period since its inception. We have seen a quite a few persons going on to university out of it, which has now created more demand for school fees; so there are [derivable] benefits.

“We have seen where students have come back and said ‘thank you’ and students have been posted (employed) because of the benefits of the programme. In most of the communities, education is the only way out for a lot of these students; so it is going to be important that we provide the basis for the assistance,” he adds.

Mr. McKenzie says the increased demand for the grant prompted the Ministry to explore ways to increase the allocation to $700,000 per Councillor for the 2020/21 academic year.

He pointed out, however, that due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the figure will remain at $500,000.

Meanwhile, Councillor Maragh states, with pride, that quite a few parents have expressed their appreciation for the assistance “because every mickle makes a muckle”.

For her part, two-time grant beneficiary, 25-year-old Leisha Thomas, says the provision helped to finance her tertiary education. She recently completed a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology at the University of the West Indies.

“It really was a big help because, even though my parents took loans, it still wasn’t enough to cover my entire tuition. It [the grant] helped clear my miscellaneous fees as well as part of my tuition fee, which was a big deal for me, and I am grateful,” Ms. Thomas indicates.

Skip to content