The suffering of Westmoreland’s New Market Oval

Children all over the world are having tough times while grappling with the effects of the novel caronavirus pandemic, but the circumstances affecting them in the New Market Oval, Westmoreland, are even more daunting.

The situation remains even more grim due to the regulations surrounding the measures that require physical schools remain closed unless a child is in grade six or due to sit regional external examinations.

A short drive through the town of Savanna-la-Mar in Westmoreland, depending on your direction, will bring you into an inner-city community called New Market Oval, where many of the residents live below the poverty line.

There is not much space between homes, and the many tenement yards have up to 11 individuals in one and two-bedroom board dwellings. Added to that, one can observe children being children —playing, having light banter, or rushing by the seaside to play with conch shells discarded by the beach. Sadly, some children roam the streets during school hours.

When the Jamaica Observer visited the community last week it was a picture of poverty and hopelessness, particularly as young mothers struggle to make ends meet. They also lament that the inability to afford Internet services and devices had left their children on the sidelines, out of school for over a year, as online school moves forward to close out the final term.

“Mi have two kids in primary school, but one is not in school because the school fee must pay, and I really don’t have it. It is $6,000 for the year. None of them are on PATH (Programme for Advancement through Health and Education). We have tried and keep being denied. From September the six-year-old has been home. It’s just the other one who’s in grade two who is in classes. I went to look about getting her on PATH and I was asked to get a letter with a stamp from the early childhood institution, but it seems it wasn’t registered straight because they didn’t have the stamp and the letter alone that I was given was not accepted,” Tessan Millwood a mother of six, told the Jamaica Observer.

In trying to keep her daughter Sutanniya Taylor occupied, Millwood said, since she’s at home, she will give her words to spell and simple maths problems to do to keep her engaged.

Little Sutanniya also told the Sunday Observer that she misses her teacher and friends, and misses doing her tests and mathematics. As she doesn’t have a tablet or books to read, she spends her days watching cartoons and playing with the other children in her yard.

“I like Mr Bean and I play hide and seek, but I want to be a hairdresser and I love wearing bubbles and clips. I want to go through back to school,” little Sutanniya said as she spoke with shyness to the news team before rejoining the other children in the yard playing with a yellow balloon.

The mode of daily survival rests on the day’s catch from those who have fishermen as relatives. Otherwise, the women make ends meet by catching crabs or just “rubbing up some flour” for fried dumplings that’s had with a glass of water. At times they rely on the goodwill of others who may leave money with them to ensure the children are fed.

Close by, Kay-Ann Taylor, mother of three, said since the onset of the coronavirus is something we all have to live with, she is at the point where she will “suit up her children and send them off to school” as she is worried that they will not recover from the lost time.

“Let us make our choice to send our kids to school; If is even three days per week. We will suit dem up and send dem, mek dem wear mask and sanitise. We have to live with it and we’ve been doing it for almost two years, but online school is not for young children. I bought books, got uniforms, paid school fee for my four-year-old and now she is at home missing out. She never see a class yet. She needs a teacher to sit her down face to face and help her. One year worth a money gone down the drain,” Taylor said.

Another mother, Kayon Edwards, said while her son has a tablet, it’s the Internet services that hinder his ability to get the hours of instruction needed.

“Him only get work sometime, as mi can only put on Internet sometimes, like once or twice a week. There is no work and nobody not helping us. It would be good if they could prepare somewhere we can send them, like a centre. To be honest we will get a chance to feed them, but it’s the education that is the problem,” she said. “If is to even send them somewhere they can go and learn. Those not going to school we just want them to be able to go and learn to read and write. Do it off shift. If is even few hours or three times per week or something.”

Meanwhile, the mothers asked for assistance in gaining employment in order to help their children better with access to education.

“Nuff pickni roun’ here nah go no school at all… just a play a day time. You have some never go a school from the day dem born,” one said.

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