MAY PEN, Clarendon — Sheneka Cushnie would often cry as she watched other children make their way to school on the three days each week when she was unable to attend. Financial constraints caused her parents to restrict her schooling to two days each week.
But now, thanks to the generosity of others, Sheneka no longer has to cry over missing out on classes. She is in school five days a week, with money for lunch and freedom from the constant worry that comes with not having enough.
“It used to make me really sad when I see the other children going to school in their uniforms and I can’t go because my mother doesn’t have the money to send me. Now, I am excited to wake up early and get ready for school because I have a sponsor,” the 14-year-old Central High School student said as she beamed with pride and excitement.
Sheneka has found it hard to keep a smile off her face since being told that small business owner Navardo Richards, a sponsor with the James and Friends Education Programme, will provide the financial support she needs to attend school regularly.
In addition to money for lunch, help will also be provided for other school-related costs such as books, uniforms and taxi fare. The support will run over the next three years, until she completes fifth form.
Sheneka’s mother, Denise Geddes, is relieved that her daughter is receiving assistance. Her child, she said, is “brilliant” and managed to still do well academically even though she spent most of each week at home.
“Now that she is able to go every day, I am expecting that she will continue to do well,” Geddes said.
According to Geddes, she had been worried that with so much time on her hands Sheneka may have fallen in with the wrong crowd or become a teenage mother.
Geddes had high praise for Richards, whose act of kindness has already had a tremendous impact on her daughter’s life.
“It’s a joy to me to know that a young man found the time to help me with her to get a good education to better herself and maybe one day give back to this very community that she is from,” said Geddes.
Sheneka’s dream is to become a biologist and she has promised to do her best to make her mother and her sponsor proud.
Her benefactor is rooting for her because he can see her potential.
“When I learnt that that some days she couldn’t reach school and she still manages to do well, I figured she just needed some help because she has the right attitude,” Richards explained.
The entrepreneur, part of a duo that operates the Leobrium clothing brand, said helping Sheneka was not a difficult decision.
“I felt compelled to assist this child because it’s a part of the personal values that I hold dear. As a business operator I feel I need to lend a helping hand because I owe the community an obligation to pay it forward,” said Richards.
“This is my small contribution to making a difference in this space where we all need to exist,” he told the Jamaica Observer.
Richards grew up in a lower middle class environment and so he knows what it is like to struggle financially.
“Now that I am in a position that I can help somebody, I am willing to help them because I went through it. I remember days when I couldn’t go to school any at all and then there were days when I got only lunch money and I went. So I feel compelled to help her,” he said, adding that he will do even more as soon as he can.
“I’m just finishing up my business plan, learning how to manage people and the business overall and as soon as I get a hold on that I will be doing more; I will always do this. My daughters are already displaying empathy and I am doing my best to nurture that trait so they can grow like that and learn that giving back is important and it will come back to them in some other way,” said Richards.