SEATTLE, Washington — Many know what aid is and that it helps, or at the very least, they see the numbers and read the headlines that showcase the benefits of aid. However, when do donors and advocates for charity, nonprofit and international organizations really hear directly about the people who actually received help through aid programs? Here is some information about what international aid really means for someone living in poverty.
About Ashley Baker
Ashley Baker is a person who benefited from international aid. In an interview with The Borgen Project, he mentioned how he started life as a poverty-stricken orphan in Jamaica and later became an aspiring politician and entrepreneur pursuing his master’s degree in Paris — all by the age of 23.
Baker was always aware of his situation. He knew he was poor. He knew he did not have a family and he was aware that he was ultimately on his own — a harsh reality for a 5-year-old laying in a hospital bed after experiencing abuse at the hands of his step-parents and becoming a ward of the state.
Although he remembers being less fortunate from a very young age, it was not until Baker lived in foster homes for more than a year that he realized he was really living in poverty.
“When I was in those homes, there were clear differences because the homes (that) have other kids, and when you go out to church or to the store and see other kids dressed nice or eating out, it became noticeable,” Baker told The Borgen Project. “We didn’t only have to deal with hunger and not having three meals a day, but with behavioral issues — also because the environment we were raised in — the abuse we went through, and the community we had to stay in at that time.”
Entering an Orphanage
Baker moved into his first orphanage, Blossom Garden, when he was 6, and soon bounced around two others: New Beginning Training Centre and Mount Olivet. No matter where he was, poverty and hunger affected his life and the lives of the other children around him.
Three meals a day were not always guaranteed, Baker said. Sometimes orphanages had farms the children could work, which ultimately provided some food. But with orphanages housing as many as 120 children, often, those smaller, personal farms did not provide enough.
When it came to school, Baker and other orphans could learn for free from public institutions, yet economic challenges frequently made actual attendance difficult. Often, they would have just enough money to take the bus to school and back. However, items like clothes, books, computers and nutrition were inconsistently available.
“The currency in Jamaica is really bad, so we would get like $500 (Jamaican) to go to school, and that was on the good days,” Baker said. “Bus fare alone would be $100 or $150 one way.”
Many orphans could not receive a guaranteed education. Many orphanages would not let children leave — whether it be for school or leisure. Those who do attend school, graduate primary school and then continue to high school are often considered the most fortunate because many orphanages simply cannot afford to send kids to school.
Child Poverty in Jamaica
Like Baker, this harsh reality of foster homes, abuse and poverty are all too real for many children in Jamaica. According to UNICEF, 25% of Jamaican children live below the poverty line — higher than any other group in the country.
As a result, many children do not perform well in school and need assistance through government programs. Yet, less than half who require assistance get it.
Baker got lucky. He moved to his final orphanage — Mount Olivet — when he was 8. The U.S.-based nonprofit Food for the Poor was helping Mount Olivet financially, ensuring Baker could eat three meals on most days.
“Some days you wouldn’t have food when you have 60 guys living in one complex,” Baker said. “Those meals were breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
Food for the Poor
Food for the Poor emerged in 1982 as a way to distribute food, medical and educational supplies to impoverished portions of the world, primarily in the Caribbean. The group says it is Jamaica’s largest charitable organization, shipping more than 480 containers of aid supplies while building or repairing 11 schools and 360 homes in 2020 alone.
Apart from Food for the Poor, international organizations such as UNICEF provide social protection and educational programs to children in Jamaica. The U.S. Agency for International Development has been Jamaica’s leading supporter and development contributor, while the nation’s “Vision 2030 Jamaica” is a national development plan designed to help people get out of poverty while building ample development to create a better living environment throughout the country.
With assistance from nonprofits and the way that government development agencies like USAID provide aid to Jamaican children, it seems that progress could occur quite quickly. However, many living in poverty are not able to meet their minimal needs, relying instead on other sources of aid such as charities and sponsorships.
“A lot of those opportunities came from the church which sponsored our orphanage, from families that would come visit the orphanage and provide clothes, and from the groups that would come and help us — mostly from the U.S.,” Baker said. “The opportunities that those groups brought to the orphanages were really great and meant so much.”
The YB Afraid Foundation
Programs, organizations and charities like these all helped Baker get a fair chance in life and rise out of poverty. In his high school years, celebrity track star and Jamaica’s own Yohan Blake created the YB Afraid Foundation, which later partnered with designer watch retailer Richard Mille. One of the orphanages to benefit from that partnership was Mount Olivet.
Ashely Baker’s Life Moving Forward
When Baker turned 18, he entered a sponsor program with a condition that he would graduate high school. Baker is now studying in a master’s degree program in France, with plans to ultimately move back to Jamaica where he can give back to other children growing up in situations similar to what he did.
Baker’s story shows that no matter where international aid or assistance comes from, it can help those who need it. Although the results may not be something that one can see immediately, its impact on people living in poverty is invaluable. It not only provides necessities needed to live but also provides opportunities for people to gain a step up above their current situation.
– Ali Benzerara