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'I may be poor but I do have ambition' Student Gemma Griffiths is determined to escape the poverty trap and now she has made a film of her family's story to show people the challenges she faces.

Byline: Student Gemma

Gemma Griffiths might not have had many breaks in life, but she always finds a way through. It is that determination that shines through in a short film she has made about her life as part of a European poverty awareness campaign.

The media studies student, from the Gurnos estate in Merthyr Tydfil, portrays what it is like to be brought up with very little money to spend and very few prospects to aspire to - even if, like her, you want a career and an escape from poverty.

The 22-year-old, who has five siblings, left school with few qualifications, left sixth form college after a few months and dropped out of a childcare course "because of a tough year".

But enrolling in a media course at Merthyr College has changed all that and the revealing film she has made of her life growing up on Merthyr's Gurnos estate is being used by the Department of Work and Pensions to mark the European Year of Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion.

Across Europe, whole families - children, parents and grandparents - find it hard to escape poverty as it is passed on from one generation to another.

People born into poverty are more likely than others to be poor when they get older because their life chances were undermined at an early age. In turn, there is a strong chance that their children and grandchildren will also be poor.

According to the European Commission, children growing up in poverty and social exclusion are less likely than other children to do well in school, enjoy good health and stay out of trouble.

The European year is all about raising awareness of the issues and encouraging ordinary citizens to take action.

Gemma's college department was asked to produce a film to mark the year and earlier this month it was shown to an anti-poverty conference with delegates from across Wales.

Gemma, who works part-time in McDonalds, hopes the 22-minute film challenges stereotypes about poverty in her hometown.

The film, called Two Sisters, follows Gemma and her family through the challenges of further education, teenage pregnancy and living on benefits as they try to make more of their lives.

"My tutor Richard was approached to make a film about poverty," explains Gemma.

"I was talking it through with him and talking to him about my family and we decided to make it about my past history.

"I was moving out of the family home and into my own flat, so it seemed like a really good place to start. I wanted to show what it is really like for people in my situation and not how it is portrayed so often in the media.

"I think it is quite heart-warming and hopefully shows poverty in a different light. I wanted to show that even though we are living in poverty we still have ambition and are still trying to get out of the trap.

"At the moment I am poor. I have hardly any money at all. I work at McDonalds, but the pay isn't very good.

"It was OK when I was living with my parents because all I had to think of was paying my share of rent, which was pounds 60. That was for gas, water, internet and petrol money for my dad taking me to work in the car.

"Now I have bus fare, train fare, rent, gas, electricity, TV licence, phone bill. There are so many bills, I am worried I can't afford it. That is my main worry.

"I want to get out of that so I can afford the nice things. I want a nice car, I want to be a home owner, I want a nice house. I want to have all that stuff. I want to have savings. I have barely enough to live on now never mind save. I want to get out of it and I am going to work my hardest to do that."

Gemma also shows the story of her younger sister Donna, who got pregnant when she was 19.

"She had the same career prospects as me," explains Gemma in the film.

"She had a good head on her shoulders, a little bit ditzy but she had the same prospects as me.

She wanted to get out of the situation she was in, but then she fell pregnant."

In the film Gemma discusses with Donna the difficulties of bringing up a child with little money.

"I don't have any money to go out," admits Donna.

"I only have money to spend on the baby. I spend about pounds 80 to pounds 90 a week on the baby, it goes on nappies, food, wet wipes, bath stuff, clothes.

"My partner brings in between pounds 200 to pounds 230 a week and that is working all day, every day. I get pounds 50 every two weeks.

"But milk is pounds 7.75 a tub and she goes through three of them every two weeks. Nappies are pounds 15 for two packets and rent is pounds 65. We pay out more than we earn. My partner had to do extra hours just to make money to pay for the bills.

"But I would never leave the Gurnos. I feel happy and safe in the Gurnos."

Gemma says that her dad having to give up his job for health reasons was the start of the family's money problems.

But she says he would try to do the best he could for them.

"If he had had the money, he would have given it to us," says Gemma.

Her dad tells the film how he would pick up Christmas presents at car boot sales and then find boxes to put them in so they looked like they were new.

Gemma admits that living at home was a bit of a struggle before she moved out to a flat three miles away in Troedyrhiw with her partner.

He has since moved out, "because of money issues", but Gemma says she is all right about that.

"At home, there was me and my younger sister, who is 13, in one room, my brother in the other room and my parents in the third bedroom," explains Gemma.

"And at one point Donna was there too. It was overcrowded and there were lots of fights. It is much better now that we all have our own space."

Now, Gemma is determined to make a different future for herself.

"I am really proud of the film and really shocked that people are seeing it and that it has been used," says Gemma.

"I am determined to have a career and I am going to work my backside off to get it "I will be OK, I always find a way through."

CLICK ON to watch Gemma's film Two Sisters
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 28, 2010
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Next Article:Yes, I'm on my way to becoming just like my parents!

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