Families struggling with cost of college turning to SVP for help
As the Society of St Vincent de Paul gears up for its biggest fundraising day of the year, volunteers have warned of the financial hurdle preventing many children from reaching college.
Tomorrow will see up to 3,000 volunteers at the gates of churches around the country for the annual church-gate fundraiser.
Funds raised go directly to helping families in the local community - including helping children get from secondary school to third-level education.
But as the amount being donated by parishioners at the annual event continues to grow, so too does the number of families seeking help to access third-level education, according to Clonmel Conference education president Mary Roche Cleary.
"At the moment there are 120 applications in my area alone and really that there is that many young people financially struggling to access third-level education in just a small area is worrying," she said.
"This is a rural area, so I'm sure it is mirrored in other rural areas, especially in other socio-economically disadvantaged areas."
The challenge of accessing education is described as a "social justice" issue by the charity, which insists more work is required at government level to alleviate the financial pressures placed on struggling families.
"We're hearing from single-parent families, to families where one parent is sick and the loss of income has had a huge impact.
"I had a case were a mother was sick and the father had passed away and the household went from two incomes to one income and then no income at all.
"That family wasn't expecting this and they would have expected that they could fund their kids' education so it was difficult for them to then come to the society.
"But there was no reason why these two bright children shouldn't go to school. One is now finished education and successfully working while the other is still in college."
The Clonmel parish alone has seen applications for educational assistance increase by a fifth since last year - a trend which shows no sign of slowing down.
"Demand has really increased in this year. I'd say we're up by around 20 applications on last year," said Ms Roche Cleary.
"It says to me that even though we are told financial circumstances for families are improving, anecdotally what we are hearing is that it is not.
"It is not improving in this area locally and not in the area of education, which is a basic human right for people."
Often children who avail of the education bursary will give back to the charity once they come through the education system and gain employment.
"A few weeks back we received a card with €50 in it from a young person who was given a bursary by SVP.
"It is very heartening to see a young person be so grateful and to take the time out and make the donation back to us," Ms Roche Cleary added.