My Name Is Tjae And I Go To School Hungry
At 13 years of age, Tjae knows what it's like to start and end the day hungry.
It's early morning on a school day, and we are at the Phillis family home on the outskirts of south-western Sydney.
It's run-down, filled with old children's toys, clothes strewn on the floor and the sound of excited chatter among the kids fills the cold, weatherboard home.
Tjae Phillis stares down the barrel of our camera, enjoying the spotlight he's getting as his younger siblings watch on in their pyjamas -- hair sleep-tussled, while his twin sisters intermittently yawn.
But our conversation isn't light or worthy of such excitement.
"I have a lot of brothers and sisters and sometimes they eat the food and there's not really much to eat. "
Most days, Tjae eats the breakfast provided by his school. He attends a government school that specialises in supporting students with behavioral and family issues.
"If I didn't have that food I would just go there [school] without any food in the morning and be really hungry.
"When I'm hungry and I'm doing, like work, or something its very hard to concentrate and do it," he told ten daily.
Alternatively, the options at home today are white bread and margarine and a batch of cupcakes that his mother says didn't turn out well (and she's not sure if it's linked to the fact the fridge stopped working overnight).
"Some of my friends go to school to eat the food because they don't have much food at their house," he said.
Almost 2000 schools around the country provide a free breakfast in order to address hunger and food shortages, increase attendance and encourage student concentration.
The Phillis family is often "food insecure" -- it's a peculiar word combination --that describes a person or household that's unable to obtain a sufficient amount of healthy food on a day-to-day basis.
And despite Australia's famous tag-line as the "lucky country" -- an increasing amount of Aussies are lucking-out when it comes to regularly being well fed.
Earlier this year, Foodbank released its first ever research report on the prevalence of child hunger in Australia. The report found that more than 1 in 5 children in Australia (22 percent) have experienced food insecurity.
Food relief agency OzHarvest also told ten daily they are stretched and are struggling to deal with the growing demand.
Tjae's mother Rikki Phillis says she often forgoes dinner in order to ensure her kids are fed.
"The other night we cooked sausages for dinner ... and we gave them our lamb because we knew they were still hungry," she said.
"We go without, as long as the kids are fed that's the main thing."
When people are asked to think of those unable to afford basic, healthy food -- many would envision the homeless.
But Rikki's husband works three jobs, and yet, there are still weeks where they can't afford to bills, rent and to feed the whole family.
Rikki says they'll have to go on a payment plan to pay their latest power bill and cut back on other essentials.
"So that means less money towards essential stuff like food and clothes for kids, because you don't pay your power bills you get cut off. "
'Bill shock' is another phrase often thrown around in this issue/debate.
And it's more than just getting a shock when you see how much your latest utility bill amounts to. Food relief agency Foodbank's CEO Brianna Casey describes it as;
"How increasing numbers of people are falling into food insecurity simply due to the rising cost of life’s basics – like rent and power bills. Financial pressures create difficult choices, such as choosing between heating and eating."
At school, Tjae devours fresh fruit and is joined by many of his friends at the breakfast bar.
"During the day if I'm hungry I can grab an apple or eat some things here which is really good," he said.
Lomandra School also provides emergency food hampers to 250 local families a week.
The food has been 'rescued' by relief agencies OzHarvest, Foodbank, local suppliers and sponsors, and volunteers package up essentials to help families get through tough times.
In addition to 'bill shock', these tough times includes unexpected medical bills, women and children leaving domestic violence situations and casual workers who are underemployed.
Contact the authors email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
Featured Image: Antoinette Lattouf