Twenty-one-year-old Michelle Wallace has, for more than a decade, depended on remittances from abroad to assist her and her 14 year-old sister to finance their education. On September of each year, she receives money from her parents, who live in the United States of America, to finance school expenses and other back-to-school needs.
For Michelle, remittances are a critical part of her support system, and very important to facilitating the achievement of educational targets she and her sister have set for themselves.
Michelle and her sibling are, however, merely an example of the thousands of Jamaicans and millions of people in the Latin America and Caribbean region who depend on remittances to finance education and meet day-to-day expenses.
According to a report from the Inter- American Development Bank (IDB), remittances have become the world’s largest poverty reduction “programme” for some 10 million families in Latin America and the Caribbean, who rely on funds from abroad to fend off poverty. Remittances also help households to maintain their consumption levels during recessionary periods, and supports vital investments in education, health and entrepreneurship.
Educational support is perhaps one of the most important roles that remittance plays. Figures from the Bank of Jamaica (BOJ) indicate that approximately 14 per cent of all remittances entering Jamaica are spent on education. This figure is third behind utilities and food, which both account for 19 per cent and 18 per cent of remittance spending respectively. The money spent on education is used to pay school fees, purchase school supplies, cover day-to-day needs and pay for exams.
Also, the back-to-school period between late August and early September is normally one of the periods during which remittance inflows to the island are at their highest, surpassed only by the Christmas period.
In addition to money, the BOJ indicates that relatives from overseas also send home stationery and other school supplies to assist with back-to-school preparation. In fact, back-to-school supplies account for about 5.1 per cent of all non-cash gifts sent to the island according to the BOJ.
And, many remittance companies also do their part to support Jamaicans during the back-to-school period, providing rewards to assist customers with their preparations. Lasco Financial Services, for instance, has consistently donated back to school vouchers from Sangster’s Bookshop to its customers who receive funds through MoneyGram to meet back to school expenses. The company has also organised support programmes through partnerships with not-for-profit organisations, such as Little Heaven Outreach Programme Limited, which provides support to residents of West Kingston.
The Jamaican remittance brand, JN Money Transfer, has also consistently rewarded customers with back to school vouchers visiting its agents and branches to make presentations to customers across the country. The company also offers grants to students and donates care packages and school supplies to wards of the state.
Without the support of the more than US$2 billion Jamaica receives annually in remittances, government would need to widen social safety net services to assist the numbers of Jamaicans who depend on remittances to meet basic day to day expenses. In the final analysis, remittances are important to the economy and the pursuit of education in Jamaica and should, therefore, be effectively managed and maintained to contribute meaningfully to the attainment of the country’s development targets.