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Junior banker, Karon Lewis has encouraged young people in rural Jamaica to take seriously the notion of using education as their ticket out of poverty.

The client relations officer for JN Bank in St Elizabeth, was keynote speaker at the JISCO Alpart Jamaica’s Back-to-School Awards Ceremony, for some 576 scholars and grant recipients from 32 mining communities, mainly in South Manchester. The event was held in partnership with the Manchester Plateau Community Council Benevolent Society and the Essex Valley Council at the Bethabara Moravian Church in New Port, Manchester.

He stressed that although the message may sound like a cliché, it is the surest opportunity many persons will receive to create benefits for themselves and their families.

Beyond its well-known town capital, Mandeville, which over the years, has attracted many returned residents, poverty is a real problem in several Manchester communities.

Data from the Planning Institute of Jamaica’s (PIOJ) Survey of Living Conditions in 2012, the last of such surveys conducted by the institute, indicates that 22.5 per cent of households in Manchester are poor.

Further study presented by anthropologist, Dr Herbert Gayle, during a safety and security forum, organised by the JN Group for its members in the parish earlier this year, showed varying incidences of poverty in several communities across the parish. In communities, such as Victoria Town on the parish’s southern border with Clarendon, as much as 70 per cent of its households live in poverty; while May Day, in the central parts, records a poverty prevalence of 13 per cent.

“I recognised from early that, education was my only way out of poverty,” the 25-year-old, who grew up on the pastoral lands of Green Olive, Bull Savannah in southern St Elizabeth, reflected. He recalled how his parents’ (a housewife and mason) investment in his education, placed him in a position to be able to contribute to their welfare, while pursuing his own life, today.

“I decided that I might be poor, but I am not less than anybody else,” the 2014 Governor-General’s Award recipient for the parish of St Elizabeth, said.

That was what he often told himself, in the face of scarcity and financial difficulties, while attending Munro College. There he excelled, became head prefect; president of the Debating Society and class valedictorian, prior to matriculating to The University of the West Indies, where he earned a degree in Economics and International Relations.

“Education is the most powerful tool you can use to change your life and your circumstances,” Mr Lewis told the young Southern Manchester beneficiaries, as he paraphrased the words of the late, former president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela.

“Do not, on any day of the week, allow poverty to prevent you [from achieving]. It should instead propel you to prosper,” he charged. “Therefore, as you move towards your next academic milestone, whether you’re starting high school, sixth form or university, I urge you to strive for excellence, by setting high standards for yourself. And, I promise you that your hard work will pay off in the future.”

Mr Lewis’ message was echoed by Michael Stewart, Member of Parliament for South Manchester, who thanked JISCO Alpart for the scholarships valued at $5.4 million to the young residents of South Manchester.

“We have always said that the fundamental cure for poverty is not money, but education,” he underscored. “And once you have a sound education the sky is the limit.”

Zhang Jun, managing director, JISCO Alpart, said the company remains committed to the communities of South Manchester and South St Elizabeth, highlighting that it has quadrupled its investment in the education of young people from these communities, since JISCO took over ownership of ALPART’s operations in 2016.

That year, 1,000 students, from the infant to tertiary levels in South Manchester and South St Elizabeth, benefited from scholarships and grants; and this year, more than 2,200 have received assistance from an allotment of $20 million.

“Education is not preparation for life, education is life itself,” Mr Zhang quipped, quoting the words of the American philosopher and education reformer, John Dewey, to encourage the students and community members.

“Work hard at your studies, as the boundaries are endless and Jamaica’s future is in your hands,” he charged them.

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