ESRICK Atkinson has not had an easy life.
Having lost his mother in a motor vehicle accident at age two and his father a year ago, the 18-year-old orphan has found himself at a point where he is also slowly losing his dream.
Atkinson's dream since childhood has always been to become a qualified teacher, but with the recent pronouncement by Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites regarding a freeze on teacher employment, the youngster is frustrated and hopeless.
Thwaites announced in June that the plan to freeze the number of teachers entering the education system is a stipulation of the current International Monetary Fund agreement. Therefore, only a few graduates with specialised training from teachers' colleges, will be absorbed in the education system as specialist teachers.
"The career that I had set my mind on was to become a teacher," Atkinson told the Jamaica Observer on Tuesday. "Thwaites said that he wouldn't be accepting any teachers for some years and I had already chosen the subjects to match teaching, so now I am a bit confused because I don't know what else I would be so passionate about," he said.
"I was saying that I would go into the legal field, but I understand it's very expensive and right now I don't have any financial backing, so I was saying I would research and see if I find something else that my qualifications are suitable for," he added.
Atkinson graduated from York Castle High School in 2011 with seven CSEC subjects -- four grade ones, one grade two and two grade threes.
But despite his qualification, Atkinson has no parents to help his dream along, and the financial support needed to push him a notch further up is also lacking.
Today he volunteers at the Gibraltar All-Age and Infant school filling for absent teachers, helping out in the canteen, or doing odd jobs. It is a task for which the principal and teachers reward him by putting together a stipend from their own pockets so that he can purchase personal items.
But this Atkinson said is not enough to put something aside to save towards furthering his education.
"I was planning that this year I would find a job and work towards it. Because the stipend at the end of the month is not really much, so I am not able to save from that," he said.
"I grew up without a mother. I lived with my father because my mother died when I was only two years old, and my father passed away last year.
"When I passed the GSAT, I passed for York Castle and I was the top student here at Gibraltar All-Age. At the time my father lost his job just as I passed for York Castle, so it was an aunt who had to send me to school. She does housekeeping work at Riu. At that time she had five children, so she was sending them to school as well. So you know, some days I couldn't go to school because I didn't have any bus fare. And many days I went without lunch money just the same but that didn't matter to me," he said.
His father was a groundsman at Breezes Runaway Bay before he was laid off. After that he struggled to find work.
"My aunt paid for the subjects as well. And I failed only Mathematics in CSEC," he said.
It is a great accomplishment for him, said Ivy Walton, principal of the Gibralter All-Age and Infant school where Atkinson now volunteers.
"I know of his situation because we live in the same district," Walton told the Sunday Observer. "He really is an intelligent boy who is hungry to get himself trained so that he can help himself. He is a brilliant guy, he is intelligent, he is a Christian, very humble, very respectful," she said.
"Sometimes he went to school without lunch and I tell you despite his circumstances, he did not fail. He took eight subjects and he got four ones, one two and two threes. He even got an award for doing so well at York Castle," Walton said.
At York Castle, Atkinson was the drama club president, a member of the Inter-Schools Christian Fellowship (ISCF) and conducted general and form devotions from time to time.
After watching him in the classroom, Walton said that the youngster would make a good teacher.
"He would make a very good teacher. He really would make a very good teacher," she said. "I would like if somebody or some organisation would invest some money in him to get him qualified because they would not regret it. Somebody! Just to help him financially," she pleaded.
Walton said that when Atkinson's father died, it really affected him.
"He was living with his dad and his dad did everything for him. His father was made redundant and that is why it was so rough on him going to school. So he had to go sometimes without food. Because if anybody gave him a little help he couldn't afford to eat lunch out of it. He would just use it to pay his bus fare. And when his dad died, he took it so hard. He really took it hard because he didn't have anybody now."
Atkinson said that his mother died when the bus in which she was travelling overturned in the Bog Walk Gorge.
His mother was among 12 persons killed when the bus in which they were travelling plunged into the Rio Cobre.
"My mother was travelling to Kingston to apply for a passport as she was planning on going away on the farm work programme and the bus went over the Bog Walk Gorge," he said. "My father died from pneumonia."
Atkinson hopes that he will be able to attend the University of Technology (UTECH) to pursue his alternative choice of study -- law.
"I haven't taken my mind completely off teaching, but I think that it's a no-no at this time, so I'll just give it a rest for the time being," he said. "And if further on things get better, I think I will still pursue my career in teaching."
Atkinson, along with one of his sisters, still lives with his aunt. He is the youngest of two boys and two girls.
One of his sisters is still attending school, his brother was recently laid off from his job and his other sibling -- another sister - is living with her father.
But the thought of being stuck and not knowing how he will move forward is depressing to the youngster.
"Many times I get depressed when I think about it, so I just try to uplift myself by volunteering at the school," he said. "Like I said teaching is my passion so I just volunteer and get my mind off things because when I think about it I normally get depressed, so I normally don't think about it. When I'm in the classroom teaching, I have a sense of belonging. Especially the part where I realise the students are getting it and that I'm getting through to the students," he said.
Walton, who is also a pastor,said that Atkinson is a role model in the community.
"As a young person, he is a role model to the others in his community," she said. "He graduated from school and he doesn't have the backative to send him on to college but he doesn't stay on the street with the other boys - there are many other boys who are high school graduates who are on the street but he decides to come and do some voluntary work at the school, because that's what he is doing now. And so as teachers we take a little something out our pay to give him so he can buy his personal items. He is a brilliant boy you know, he just wants the help," she said.