Irrational? Common Misconceptions About Poverty in Jamaica (Part 3)

Here's Part 3 and final of our  exciting “Irrational” blog series!


Our "Irrational" series explores common questions people may have about those who suffer in poverty in Jamaica. Join us as we find out some perfectly logical reasons to a few of their so-called "irrational" behaviors!

*To be clear, the behaviors we present are not the actions  of every poor Jamaican person. Plus, the factors we discuss do not, by any means, provide a full explanation behind such behaviors. They are simply some possible answers for us to consider when confronted with conduct we do not comprehend.*

The previous “irrational” behavior we examined was this: Why Have So Many Children They Can’t Afford? Click here to read that blog.

Now, on to our final question:  Why Risk Your Life to Join a Gang?

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3. Why Risk Your Life to Join a Gang?

Gangs are extremely dangerous groups that often result in the death of its members. Why would anyone want to join them? Why not stay on the safe side? Jamaican anthropologist, Herbert Gayle, wrote on why gang life is so attractive to young men in Jamaica. Many join gangs as an escape from broken homes. Absent parents. Conflict in the home. Weak parent-child relationships. Most persons from Jamaican gangs have these tragic home lives in common. It is rare for gangs to have members coming from nurturing homes.

‘Nothing to Live for Anymore’

Many perpetrators of gang crime once started as victims. A friend may have been killed. A family member may have been raped. The house of a loved one may have been burnt. Such grief can destroy the hope in any human. Such deep cuts will naturally lead persons to want revenge. Gang life allows them to punish those who hurt them and gain some sort of justice. Also, those who undergo such trauma, often feel like they have ‘nothing to live for anymore’. So, a dangerous lifestyle in a gang no longer scares them. Death is not a deterrent. For some, it is the hope.

A Desperate Need for Provision

Thirdly, gangs provide economic help. Simple. Many people in poor communities cannot access quality education. Besides, although they attend school, boys normally drop out by age 16. This is partially because males are seen as the providers. So, if a family struggles, the girl tends to stay in school while the boy goes off to hustle as way of helping. Hustling consists of risky behaviors such as gambling, stealing and gang life. As Dr. Gayle put it “Gang life pays.”

Justification ... Or Empathy?

None of the reasons listed here are meant to justify negative and harmful behaviors. They are only meant to help us better understand and increase our level of empathy for those who are less fortunate than ourselves.. They reveal a thought process which one adopts given one’s limited life choices and circumstances. Chances are, we would be behaving in a similar way if we had to walk in their shoes. Hopefully, these few explanations have shed new light on some of the decisions made by those who suffer in poverty.

A New Possibility of Change

But that is not the end of the story. We all know of stories which show that, once people grab onto hope, they can eventually change the way they think about their circumstances. Instead, they can move forward to plan a better, brighter future.

We should go out of our way to understand those around us. Once we take some time to grasp the mindset behind their behaviors, we come closer to knowing the truth. And the truth is often this: the actions of others are rooted in both logic and emotion, much like our own. By understanding this, we can now empathize with and respect them more. It is important to understand the people we try to help, as this teaches us how to help them better.

What Do You Think?

If you have any questions or think we left anything out, let us know in the comments! Also, if you can think of any other questions people may have about poverty in Jamaica, please comment below! We'd love to hear from you!

See You Soon!

Thanks for reading our series on Misconceptions About Poverty!

Check back here each month, as we post more stories about Jamaica, our outreach ... And more!

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IRRATIONAL? Common Misconceptions about poverty in Jamaica: Part 2

We’re back with Part 2 of our “Irrational” blog series!

We started this series with the statement that it’s easy for those of us who are not poor  to make pretty big assumptions about people who live in poverty.

*To be clear, the behaviors we present are not the actions of every poor Jamaican person. Plus, the factors we discuss do not, by any means, provide a full explanation behind such behaviors. They are simply some possible answers for us to consider when confronted with conduct we may not comprehend.*

The first “irrational” behavior we examined was this: Why ‘Waste’ Their Very Limited Money? Click here to read that blog.

Now, on to our second question:  

Why Have So Many Children They Can’t Afford?

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While this is often characterized in popular culture, somewhat comically, as “having baby-father drama”, it leaves one seriously wondering: Why would a woman agree to have babies with a series of partners who may abandon her? Why, when, ultimately, she will be left alone with several children, very limited resources, and no emotional support?  

Prove Their Worth

Renown anthropologist, Edith Clarke, helps us understand why this makes perfect sense to those who get caught in this unfortunate situation. Child bearing is very important within certain segments of the Jamaican society. It proves that an individual has reached the heights of womanhood or manhood. Childless women are seen as having something wrong with them, as it is only “natural” for women to become mothers. They may be called “mules” or even be deserted by their partners if they cannot bear children. Likewise, men also feel pressure to have a “yout” since this proves their virility and value as men. We all, rich and poor, feel a need to be valued. However, poor individuals who already feel undervalued by society often feel a need to prove their self worth - and childbearing becomes one way to do this.

Once a child is born, some men, having proven ‘their worth’, may leave the newly formed family. In many cases, these men are also not able to provide financial support for their ‘baby mother’.

Need for Support

This leaves the mother alone with a child to support. One should note that Jamaican women are twice as likely to be unemployed than men. Without adequate resources to care for the child, these women sometimes choose another partner to get the financial support they need or to simply provide a father figure for her child. The new partner may only agree to support the woman and her child if she bears him a child as well. Later, now with more children, the struggling, downcast mother may again be abandoned by her partner, causing the very difficult and heart breaking cycle to continue.

Unwanted Pregnancies

Finally, many women may tragically get pregnant due to rape. Perhaps the most under-reported violent crime, rape is unfortunately a reality for hundreds of women in the island. What may even be more tragic is the fact that many women are victims of sexual violence at the hands of persons they know. It should be made clear that this issue is not limited to social class! Rape happens regardless of class, age or race. In any case, we must consider it as a possible factor before we judge women for having what may actually be an unwanted pregnancy.

Yes. We need to consider all of these factors and the context before pointing a finger at women who we see as having children they “can’t afford”.

What do You think?

Do you agree with these answers? Anything you’d like to add?

Let’s hear from you!

Leave a comment below! Or drop us a line at

You can also check out our Twitter or Facebook pages!

Want more answers to these kinds of common questions?

Stay tuned for our next blog in this series!

Part 3 will be the final blog in this series and will examine the question:  “Why Risk Your Life to Join a Gang?”


BOOKS TO SHARPEN YOUNG MINDS: Maxfield Park Primary School



Maxfield Park Primary is a Jamaican school in St. Andrew which welcomes children up to the grade 6 level. Amidst a community plagued by poverty and crime, Maxfield shines as a beacon of hope. An explosion of colour awaits students within the school walls. The rooms, benches, and walkways display brightly coloured messages about learning. While much improved over the years, Maxfield still struggles with certain academic problems.




There has been a decline among some students’ scores for English, Mathematics, and Numeracy in the last couple of years. Presumably, one contributor to this decline is the inability of some parents to afford required books for their children. Books are mostly needed to help grades 4-6 pupils prepare for the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT). This exam will determine the quality of high school into which they will enter. This, in turn, can ultimately affect their chances of entering university or getting well-paid jobs.



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The need to buy expensive textbooks must weigh heavily on the minds of parents. Financial burdens are a major cause of stress in many persons. Jamaican parents, especially, suffer from a high degree of stress; much higher than parents in the United States. Children of parents with stress like this often struggle more academically, cognitively, and behaviourally. Furthermore, high stress levels can negatively affect one’s interaction with one’s children. Studies show that stress can be reduced through parenting training, such as what is offered by our I Can Parent program. Jalawelo was happy help reduce the stress which may be facing parents via our Maxfield Park Primary book donation.



 The principal addressing her hopeful students.

The principal addressing her hopeful students.

New, crisp books were donated to 20 students whose bright faces showed curiosity and pleasure as they were handed their very own books. Likewise, Principal Beverley Gallimore-Vernon, brimmed with joy once she saw the books. She has a genuinely deep connection with her children, which was clear from the way she spoke about and to them. Her positive view of their future is what drives her to work with various sources of aid such as Jalawelo. She will unleash the potential of each child by combining outside help from others in Jamaica with hard work by both children and staff.




The school understands that they have a long road ahead. While there has been great improvement in the school, it is not perfect. The principal briefly informed us that some shooters have terrorized the surrounding community. She noted that, if not guided, this new generation of children will grow up to be criminals as well. This motivates them to embrace the school’s motto: “Academic Success Under Construction.” It reflects the reality that, although a long process, success can be possible.


Thank you for taking them one step further on the road to achievement through your support!


Photo Credit: Jessica Brown

Jalawelo Spotlight: Our New Intern!



Joelle is our new intern who helps with program development! Here’s a bit about her:

Quick Facts

  • Name: Joelle Rattray
  • Age: 22
  • Faith: Christianity
  • Country: Jamaica
  • Studied: Anthropology 
  • Dream career field: International development


 Helping out at the Miracle Learning Centre's Christmas Fun Day.

Helping out at the Miracle Learning Centre's Christmas Fun Day.

I grew up in a very safe, sheltered environment. During high school, however, I had an experience that changed things. The incident allowed me to see firsthand the crime that I had so often heard about in the news. I’m grateful to God for letting me escape that scenario mostly unhurt, but it left me wondering about the countless others who hadn’t.

For the first time, I started becoming more interested in the news; watching to see any stories about people who faced similar situations. This woke me up to the realities around me and stirred in me a desire to help those in need. This included not just those hurt by crime, but also those who are suffering from poverty, mental illness, desertion.. the list keeps growing.


The desire to help others in a very direct way, along with my love of cultures, is what spurred me into the field of international human development.


I was drawn to Jalawelo primarily because they checked all the right boxes for me. I was most impressed that they:

 Meeting with 2 former members of our Young Adults Circle program.

Meeting with 2 former members of our Young Adults Circle program.

  • Don’t Have a "Saviour complex"

Jalawelo shies away from taking all the credit for transforming lives. Instead, they believe that much of the power to change a life lies within the person themself. They encourage people to contribute their own ideas and energy towards bettering their own lives. Jalawelo is simply there to help them along.

  • Offer Real, Sustainable Help

I was impressed by their “real help, not handouts” stance. They want to encourage a mentality in others which supports hard work and personal drive, as opposed to expecting things to be handed to them. So, although they offer help, Jalawelo expects individuals to work hard towards meeting their own needs.

  • Have Passion for God

Jalawelo doesn't just offer practical help, but also spiritual help. They understand that people need the life-giving message of the Bible even more than physical necessities. Their faith is what drives everything they do.


 Sharing her own childhood experiences at an I Can Parent meet up.

Sharing her own childhood experiences at an I Can Parent meet up.

It has honestly been an amazing experience!

I love that I’m given diverse, interesting tasks to do each day which I genuinely enjoy doing. It allows me to become more comfortable in areas I didn’t have much practice in before, like public speaking.

Working with Jalawelo, also helps me to work on my people skills. This job is extremely collaborative, so it encourages me to share my ideas as well as be more willing to listen to the ideas of my team members.


 Unpacking books to be donated to the Maxfield Park Primary School

Unpacking books to be donated to the Maxfield Park Primary School

Volunteering is still a fairly recent thing for me. It has opened my eyes to many of the positives that come with helping people. Volunteering helps me to:

  • Think Outside of Myself

To be frank, I’ve been quite self-centered and lazy for most of my life. So, the idea of willingly spending my time and energy on someone else was faaar from my mind. Volunteering is a great cure for that. It causes you to momentarily focus on someone else’s feelings and needs instead of your own.

  • Make a Direct Impact on a Life

I know that if I help someone, it might have a lasting effect on them. Plus, if a change occurs in someone’s life, it could create a ripple effect. More lives could be touched than you could even begin to imagine.

  • Form Relationships

You get to make connections with persons from all different backgrounds. Humans are humans. You can find a connection with anyone. This might even be the person you help.

Photo credit: Jessica Brown


We'd love to have you on our team!

Fill out our volunteer form here!

Or send us an email at !

Excited to hear from you!

IRRATIONAL? Common Misconceptions about poverty in Jamaica

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It’s easy for those of us who are not poor  to make pretty big assumptions about people who live in poverty. We question the life choices these individuals make based on how we believe we would respond to their situation. Fair enough. This is human nature - we copy and paste our realities onto those of others despite coming from completely different backgrounds. When we do that, chances are we’ll get it wrong. Sometimes, when we genuinely cannot explain the actions of the poor in a satisfying way, we simply label them as being irrational. But is it wise for us to believe certain behaviors don’t make sense . . . simply because we can’t understand them?

Let us dig deeper.

Focusing on the Jamaican context, let’s explore some potential causes to 3 common behaviors of the poor which others often find baffling.

To be clear, these are not the actions  of every poor Jamaican person. Nor, by any means, an exhaustive explanation of the reasons behind each of these behaviors. They are simply some factors for us to consider when we observe behaviors that we have hard time understanding.  


1. Why ‘Waste’ Their Very Limited Money?

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Expensive Funerals, Weaves, Nails, Dances . . . when we see people with very limited resources spend (or “waste”) their money on these items we often scratch our heads. The common thinking is this: If they don’t have enough money to cover their everyday expenses, why not spend the little they have to pay their children’s school fees, for more groceries, or just to save for a rainy day?

Sound argument. Or is it?

It does not take into consideration the psyche of one who is constantly deprived of economic resources. Research has shown that poverty affects the brain in quite a peculiar way. It causes humans to think in a much more short-term manner. There are a number of reasons why this happens. For one, persons who have little are brought up to treasure the present more than the future.  If you really think about it, this makes sense.  Linda Tirado, a woman who has experienced a life of poverty said the following:

“I will never not be poor […] It is not worth it to me to live a bleak life devoid of small pleasures so that one day I can make a single large purchase. I will never have large pleasures to hold on to […] because no matter how responsible you are you will be broke in three days anyway. When you never have enough money it ceases to have meaning.”
— - Linda Tirado

According to this study, wealthier individuals are only slightly more likely to delay gratification that those who are poor. They are possibly able to hold off on certain pleasures in life because, in the meantime, they still enjoy other privileges that keep them comfortable. The truth is, even if more poor people  became future-focused and ready to delay their immediate desires for the sake of reaching their long-term goals, they still have “more pressing short-term needs” which pull at their “limited resources”. So, they are unable to properly save or invest  for the future.

To clarify, this behavior is not unique to Jamaicans; it is also evident in other economically challenged population groups.

What Do You Think?

What do you make of this explanation? And how do you think Jamaicans can help curb this way of thinking? We’d love to hear your feedback! Drop us a line on Twitter or Facebook or leave a comment below!

Want more answers to these kinds of common questions?

Stay tuned for our next blog in this series!

Part 2 tackles the question: “Why Have So Many Children They Can’t Afford?”



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Understanding the Plight of Parents

The mother who used a machete to beat her “frantic”preteen daughter seemed frustrated as she repeatedly swung the blade unto her terrified child. This occurred last year, although it has only recently gone public as a video of the incident was posted online. In response, the police arrested the mother temporarily  and placed the child with family.  


Such severe discipline is not the norm in Jamaica. And so, the video not only shocked, but disturbed, many Jamaicans. It is true that controlled corporal punishment has been a part of the Jamaican culture. Most individuals, especially from previous generations, can attest to being spanked at some point during their childhood. This type of punishment, however, can easily spiral out of control when a parent is angry or under stress due to daily challenges they face.


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This may well have been the case with the mother on video. According to sources, she normally does not act like this and is typically seen as the “mother for the community.” Sources suggest that her daughter had behavioural problems, which may have caused the mother to reach a point of exasperation. Parents with high amount of stress often release their anger by beating their offspring. While this does not excuse the response of the mother, it may allow us to understand her more. She, and many others, may not have been equipped to properly deal with the challenges and strains which parenting presents. These issues can affect different types of parents such as those who are  young, single, and/or male in the Jamaican context.


Younger parents are often in need of parenting advice and and a way to support themselves financially. Almost 1/4 of all Jamaican girls have at least one child before age 18. Their young age may indicate a greater lack of emotional financial maturity to adequately support a child. In fact, most Jamaican youth work in low-paying and low-skilled jobs. This is likely to put extra strain on young parents across the island.


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Large numbers of children in Jamaica are being raised mainly by one parent. Single parents struggle to carry most of the responsibility of parenting on their shoulders. Mothers, in particular, face challenges since Jamaican women are nearly twice as likely to be unemployed as men. Moreover, female headed households are usually larger, which puts greater pressure on already limited resources. Both single men and women are challenged, however, and sometimes do not receive support from their families or communities.



There is a trend towards a lack of father involvement in Jamaica. Most children aged 3 to 5 years old do not live with their biological fathers. For some fathers who do cohabit with their children, their emotional or psychological involvement with the child is kept at a minimum. This may stem from the cultural expectation of fathers to be mainly the providers, giving them license to neglect their roles as caregivers also. Furthermore, they may even struggle to provide financially as they may not have high levels education. This is because, in Jamaica, more males tend to discontinue school after age 16 than females.


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These are simply a handful of the issues which confront parents daily in Jamaica. While we must protect the rights of a child, we must not ignore the cries of a parent. Parents may need formal parenting advice  to break away from their own harmful behaviors. It is in meeting the needs of parents, that we can positively impact their children.

Healthier homes create a healthier future generation.


Want to Contribute to Healthier Homes?

Support Jalawelo's  I Can Parent Program