SHYANN Brown looks forward to going to school, not because of the education it offers, but because it is the place that she sometimes gets her only meal for the day.
'Some nights we don't get dinner, miss,' the soft-spoken child said. 'Lots of nights we go to our bed without dinner. But some nights my mother cook chicken back and dumpling, miss. I like it because it is what she has, miss.'
Shyann is one of nine children for her mother, the youngest being six and the eldest, 23.
And with her eldest brother from the family home recently, the two-room brick house which the family occupies in Gibraltar, St Ann, is still cramped with three girls, five boys and their mother. All the boys sleep on a single bed in one of the rooms and the four females sleep on the double bed in the other.
But even at 11, Shyann believes that her mother is trying her best under the circumstances.
"I think she works hard, because like how we going back to school now she is the only one that help us, miss," Shyann, who has big dreams of becoming a doctor, told the Jamaica Observer on a visit to their home recently.
"I am going to be working for it because I think being a doctor is much better than some other jobs."
Shyann said that despite her challenges she tries to keep her grades within an 80 average, as a start to accomplishing her dream. "I want my grades to be up to 98 or 100. But my grade is normally in the 80s," she said.
The child's mother, Imogene Lawrence, 45, was not home. But when the Sunday Observer caught up with her in the small town of Benin, a few miles away, she explained that she had gone there to borrow money for the children to go to school the following day, as she could not get any day's work.
"I used to get day's work to wash, but people don't really want to pay what I am charging so they buy washing machine now," Lawrence said.
She said that she would charge persons $1,500 for the day. But this is a far cry from what is needed to feed nine mouths.
"To tell you the God truth, sometimes I don't even put food to my mouth," Lawrence said. "Because even if mi get one little money mi affi just put up the money for them to go to school. And sometimes they walk and people see them and sorry for them and give them something to eat," she said. "Sometimes mi feel a way. Right now mi pressure high because of the fretting that I'm doing."
Ivy Walton, principal of the community's all-age and infant school and lay preacher for the four Baptist churches in the district, said that Lawrence's blood pressure skyrocketed so much a few weeks ago that she had to be rushed to the hospital.
"It is really hard on her," Walton said. "I try to help out as much as I can and when I can, but she really needs the help," Walton said.
Lawrence said that since the washing has slowed, she is willing to do babysitting jobs as there are weeks when she does not get any day's work, forcing the two children in high school to stay home for those weeks. Other times, they may attend two or three times for the week.
"The money part ration on mi 'cause mi can't send them more time," the distressed, slim-framed woman said. "This morning is borrow mi have to borrow money. Tomorrow mi have to consider how to send them go school same way. Not even food mi can find some of the time fi dem get. Right now, if you check mi yard, not a piece of food."
The three younger children attend the community all-age and infant school, two are in high school, one left Brown's Town High in June, but was unable to sit his CXCs because of lack of money, another attends HEART, courtesy of help from a friend overseas, one does apprenticeship work in woodwork and another helps out on people's farms by cutting wood, among other things.
"The three at all-age, I don't have to worry about them because they cook down there," the mother said. "But because school just start they don't cook for this week. Is borrow mi borrow $500 to send them to school for this week. That suppose to keep them 'til next week," she said.
Lawrence said that the two at high school have to be given $1,000 per day, since each has to take four vehicles to and from school daily. However, when she cannot find that amount, she tries to give them at least $500 per day.
Lawrence said that in an effort to cut back on travelling costs, she had tried to transfer the two to Brown's Town High, which is closer to home. However, because of their poor attendance, the school would not take them in. They therefore had to continue at their previous school.
"It would have been easier for me if they were going to Brown's Town High," she said. "The one that just leave high school, him did suppose to do CXC but him couldn't do it and him don't graduate or anything 'cause mi couldn't find the money. So mi did want put him back in school for September here, but mi don't have the money. But I want him to get the chance to do some subjects," the mother said.
While all nine children are fathered by the same man, Lawrence said that he is not supporting the family, especially since they have not been living together for over five years.
"Since school open is people have to be giving me uniform and them something there for the ones going to school. I haven't got anything from him. Him nuh give mi nothing," she said. "A mi one with them."
But Lawrence's 18-year-old daughter, Tanisha, said she believes that this is because her father is unable to provide financially for them.
"They have been together long, long, long time. This minute they are together and the next minute they not. But him nuh really have it 'cause him nuh work," the youngster said. "He doesn't really have it, but when he has it he tries to help," she said.
However, her younger sister Shyann said that she is not happy with her father's actions.
"I am not feeling happy about my father," she said. "I feel happier about my mother. I think my father could be doing more, like help out situations to make sure that we are going to school."
Lawrence said that her children's father does farming and wicker work.
"Mi don't hear from them father -- and is nearby he is, you know, miss. Him work ground and do wicker work," Lawrence said.
She said, however, that when he was living with the family, things were only a little better than they are now.
"Him miserable and mi don't love miserable man. When mi suppose to go anywhere, him mek up him noise and want to lick mi and seh he will kill mi and chop mi up and mi don't want nuh man kill mi," she said. "Him lick mi nuff time, so mi don't want him where I am. Since school open is people have to be giving me uniform and them something there for them. I haven't got anything from him. Him nuh give mi nothing."
She said that while she has put all the children on the PATH programme over the years, she is presently receiving help for only two. But this, too, she has not yet received.
"The PATH people dem say it not coming down until in October. I got it in August and I am not getting it until October again."
She said that she receives $1,500 per child for the two months.
"Right now the children suppose to go to school tomorrow and it on mi head," she said. "Mi have one little boy, you see when him come from school, like all when him come tonight and him don't see nothing on the fire, him cry for something to eat. Mi affi beat him fi stop the crying for food," she said. "Suppose mi nuh have it to give him miss? Him must bear it when mi don't have it. And him affi bear it because is mi one."
The frustrated mother said that the child has to remain hungry until the next day when he goes to school and gets the cooked lunch provided there, after being provided with a cup of tea to see him off.
"Mi give them tea a morning time," she said.
And while she is short of food and money for school, Lawrence said that better accommodation for herself and the children would be welcome.
"I want a house, too, because it's nine of us and only two rooms. Ideally, I would like three more rooms because everybody pack up on one bed. All of us bundle up on one bed. Mi and the girls on one bed and the boy dem on the other bed. But sometimes the little one [boy] sleep with us," she said. "Is one double bed and one single bed. Sometime mi affi mek noise on them because tru the bed small and they want to stretch out, they stretch out dem foot on one another. But where I am living is not mine so I wouldn't want to build on it. But I have family place," she said.
Lawrence said that she has approached Food for the Poor seeking living accommodations, but despite their agreement to assist, she still has got no help from that organisation.
Presently, the nine rely on a black tank in the yard, along with whatever rain water they can catch, as there is no running water.
She said that she would also love to have a television set to keep the children entertained.
"I don't have a TV and I wouldn't mind if I could get one now," she said with a laugh.