JIS News

For at least two mornings each week, students of the Calabar and Trench Town Primary Schools in inner-city Kingston are guaranteed a hot breakfast, thanks to the Port Authority of Jamaica.
Industrial Relations Officer at the Authority, Alberta Grant, tells JIS News that the programme was introduced out of a need to enhance the welfare of children in the immediate surroundings, even though the entity already had an in-house educational assistance programme for its staff.
“At the time when the concept for the breakfast programme arose, we already had in-house educational assistance programmes for our staff, but in terms of community outreach we wanted to find projects in and outside of our community that would enhance young children and therefore, the idea came out of that need to assist young children,” she adds.
The concept was to provide at least 200 students from each school with breakfast, twice per week, at a minimal cost of $10 for each student.
The price tag, she says, is to prevent the programme from being labelled. “It was in order not to have a stigma attached to it; we wanted to call it free, but then we said the children would make a contribution of $5 for each meal,” she explains.
Importantly, Mrs. Grant says student who cannot afford the funds are not turned away. “Our emphasis here at the Port Authority is that our students should be fed, irrespective of the fact that they don’t have the $10 or $5 in each case. If they do not have it, they cannot be turned away, they would still have to be given the breakfast, so we don’t have the stigma of the free thing attached to it,” she notes.The two schools were chosen based on their
geographical location and the need for assistance, especially at the Trench Town Primary, Mrs. Grant points out.
“When we went there at first, there was hesitation in doing the programme because Hurricane Gilbert had torn down most of the building there and there was no light. The situation was really bad and some of the students were coming to school barefooted, real inner-city children with not a lot of help and we decided to help there also,” she says.
To the Authority’s credit, the programme has been going since January 1995 without a break, and fills a vital gap if the attendance records are anything to go by.
“The response is phenomenal. There used to be quite an amount of absenteeism, especially at the Trench Town Primary, and children used to come to school without meals, but it has improved immensely,” Mrs. Grant informs.
“It has been something that they look forward to so much that they now recognize the persons that are associated with it and they are very happy. They participate in sports now; previously you wouldn’t have that. The school was dying and since the programme has been instituted, you can see the difference in the behaviour, the attendance, everything about the children and you also have the parents participating, which is the good thing,” she adds.
In the meantime, the School’s Breakfast Programme has given teachers at the Trench Town Primary the impetus to put in place a lunch programme, in addition to the breakfast offering.
“So the programme really started a revolution in preparing meals, cooked and balanced meals for the children; they not only get breakfast but they now have a lunch programme also,” Mrs. Grant points out.She says while the Authority has considered expanding the programme to other institutions, no steps have been made in this direction as yet.
“It is something that we have been thinking about, but we have not yet embarked on doing it elsewhere for varying reasons. It is not that we don’t want to do it, but we are looking also at other outreach programmes, so we have not embarked on any other, but it is not that it could not go elsewhere if management approves,” the Industrial Relations Officer notes.
Of her involvement with the programme, Mrs. Grant says: “For me it’s one of the most fulfilling things that I have done in terms of additional work that I enjoy doing, because I see where it is assisting people who are in need, especially our children, so it will keep them in school because they know that when they go to school, even if they leave home without a meal, they will be fed, and it will enhance their learning ability”.
Co-ordinator for the programme and Guidance Counsellor at the Trench Town Primary School, Vivie Mothersill , is delighted at the project.
“The programme has brought out the children, especially when breakfast is served. Children are anxious to be out at school. It assists educationally, because some children who would be sleeping during class are alert. It helps them to be more focused because they are not hungry. It assists educationally, with punctuality and attendance,” she points out.
The Authority, which sponsors the programme at a minimum cost of $65,000 monthly, also provides the utensils and equipment needed for use. Replacement items are also supplied on a needs basis.