Careers & Education

Inner-city youth's ambitions on the line

Cash-strapped - Teen risks losing chance to thwart poverty

BY PETRE WILLIAMS-RAYNOR Career & Education editor williamsp@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, September 02, 2012    

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WITH her recent acceptance to the law programme at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, Tracey-Ann Greaves has a shot at escaping the poverty that has plagued her family for generations.

But to make a go at it, she needs to raise at least half of the US$10,000 (J$850,000) annual tuition fee by mid September. The other half will have to be paid by the start of the next semester.

"I want to show my cousins, other family members and also other residents in my community that there is success beyond poverty no matter what," said the resident of Palm Grove Court off Spanish Town Road in Kingston.

On her pursuit of law, Tracey-Ann said it is one way in which she can honour the memory of her father, Leonard, a security officer, who died last year of a heart attack.

"When I was younger, he used to say to me 'yuh love chat, yuh love chat; yuh better be a lawyer or else'," she said smiling at the memory of the man, who passed away just before she sat unit one of her Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations (CAPE) last May.

"It is also my dream to practise law; I have a zeal to practise law. I have no experience in law, but I am very much interested in that area," said the 19-year-old, who holds nine Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate subjects, six of them with grade ones, two with grade twos and one with a grade three.

The Wolmer's High School graduate holds distinctions in history, social studies, principles of business, English language, English literature, and mathematics. She has grade twos in geography and information technology and a grade three in French.

Tracey-Ann — the youngest of her parents' four daughters — also has under her belt several subjects at the CAPE level, including economics, history, sociology, communication studies, and Caribbean studies.

She realised early that education was her only way out of poverty.

"When I was about to do my GSAT (Grade Six Achievement Test), my house was burnt down and my parents had to sleep on the floor. I realised the hardship my parents had to go through. A couple of months later, my mother, [Yvonne, was made] redundant from the Free Zone and we were homeless," Tracey-Ann told Career & Education.

"From then on, I realised that I must change things, that something must be done. I [thought] 'well, my older sisters [Stacey-Ann, Latoya and Tasha-Gay] didn't get the chance to do it because of financial problems' but I was going to. So I really studied hard for my GSAT along with my sixth grade teacher, Ms McDonald, and I passed my GSAT," said the teen who, up to that point, was a tomboy intent on having her own way, secure in the thought that 'beatings would wear off' after it was administered.

Once in high school, she became a different person. However, it was tough going.

"My mother was unemployed. My father was the only one working and he had the habit of gambling. Sometimes my big sister [Latoya] would give me money and my community centre, the Women's Reach and Outreach Centre, they helped me with my school supplies and sometimes lunch money. So things were really tough, but my parents always made sure that we had food to eat," she said.

Her grandmother, Tracey-Ann said, was also a positive influence and also helped to provide her with money for school.

"She never liked to just see you sit down and idle. She always hit you and said, 'go tek yuh book; yuh love too much friend and company'," the teen said.

Now seven years on, Tracey-Ann said her mother is employed as a janitorial worker at Honey Bun while her sisters are busy making their own way in life, each of them with a child to care for and one of whom is pursuing her own university studies.

Tracey-Ann understands this and with the help of a former neighbour and friend Trudel Shakes has been trying to identify sources of funding. Her first step was to apply for a students' loan and she is due to attend an interview on September 6. But even if she gets the loan, it will not be enough.

"[The loan amount] is like a quarter of my tuition and the deadline for tuition is September 15. By then I should pay at least half of my tuition," she said.

Tracey-Ann also spent last Thursday visiting a number of entities, including the Office of the Prime Minister and the Citizen, Security and Justice Programme to get information on any available scholarships or grants.

Now she's turning to the public for help as she appeals for assistance to make her career dream a reality while securing her ticket out of poverty.

"In helping me financially, they wouldn't just be helping me; they would be helping everybody around me. They would put me out there to be an example to my sisters, my cousins and the other youths in my community," Tracey-Ann told Career & Education, making her case.

"As far as my knowledge is, I don't know anybody [in my community] who is going to university. The other young girls in my community either find a wholesale job downtown or not do anything. I want to get past that cyclical, generational course of poverty from my grandparents come down and it is only through education that I can gain success and show the rest of them that it can happen," she added.

Shakes, 28, who has herself dreamed of attending university to study teaching, said no investment in Tracey-Ann would be wasted.

"She has that zeal, that drive to go far... From the time she passed [GSAT] from Maxfield Park Primary for Wolmer's Girls and she kept getting those good grades, I realised that she didn't want what her mother had. She wanted more, she wanted to surpass all the persons in her community to help her mother at the end of the day," she said.

"I can tell you, anyone who decides to sponsor her will not be disappointed unless she is dead. With the drive she has, I can tell you that she is going to achieve," Shakes added, who has been involved with the Lincoln Avenue Youth Club and Senior Citizens Club.

Meanwhile, Tracey-Ann is bracing for the prospect of not attending university this year, but is hopeful it won't come to that.

"I will never stop trying. I will probably get a job and try to save towards me becoming a lawyer. That is my goal — whether long term or short term. I don't want to stay at home not working, not going to school," said the teen, who still owes her high school $8,500 which has prevented her from receiving, in hand, her CAPE unit two results.

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