A Walk in the Beetham I


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Category: Trinidad Society 15 Jun 14


When I returned from my visit to a preschool in the Beetham last week, I cut my hair short to mark the day, so I would remember. The morning unfolded like an uneasy dream in slow motion. I kept repeating to myself: “Two hundred murders already, and we are just halfway through the year. So many teens among them, shot point-blank?"

My little foray to the Beetham, thanks to Simone de la Bastide, barely scratched the surface into how and why a nine-year-old child like Jadel Holder and his 15-year-old brother Jamal, in this sweet, hot, rainy, mango-laden country, could be made to reportedly lie down on their living-room floor and be shot at point-blank range, in front of their mother.

As we wound our way into the Beetham, Simone told me she was taking me to meet Wayne Jordan, the founder and force behind the preschool Each One Teach One. It is now supported by Simone’s new brainchild, the Children’s Ark, an NGO that helps at-risk children—underprivileged, abused, abandoned, addicted. Simone, with 15 years of social work behind her (starting with her first NGO venture, Wand— Women in Action for the Needy and Destitute) and now chairman of the Children’s Ark, told me of the stories that eat away at our core but don’t make headlines.

She told me of the shameful disrepair of some of the 52 unregulated children’s homes; of toddlers who regularly fall down in buckets or adult toilets; of rooms overstuffed with toys from Good Samaritans—and overrun by rats and cockroaches; of unsupervised children engaging in sexual activity; of abuse at all levels. The Government’s excuse for not shutting down unacceptable homes is that until the Children’s Authority Act is fully proclaimed, they cannot enforce regulations to end abuse and health issues.

This is a clear signal to us all that if they don’t care about children, they can’t care about the future of  this country. We had a chance to walk around. Drainage made up narrow pathways dividing rows of galvanised homes. We bumped into groups of boys. A boy, around 17, with piercing light eyes and a face that belonged on the cover of GQ, was sitting on a wall in one group. His friends were languishing in various positions around him, one with a heavy gold chain and ring, the others looking in need of a good meal, hug-up, sleep and shower. Their eyes lit up with curiosity. They were still children. The cynical say they know their life expectancy is low, so they live for the day.

I stopped, and said, “Can I ask you some questions?” “Sure, miss.” They smiled cheekily. They are 17, 18, and 21 years old. I asked, “Why aren’t you in school?” They looked to each other for cues. “I is trouble,” said the almondeyed boy. “What?” I asked. He wouldn’t say. They know everything. They know about the guns and the drugs, the drug lords, the middlemen, the construction gangs.

Studies show that gangs dealing with drugs, use the little pawns like these boys, who make less than minimum wage. They’ve devalued their own lives. To every question, they said, “I don’t know anything, I inside my house, 24-0.” I asked, “Can you take me to your home?” “No, miss, it hard to get to.” I said, “Okay, I won’t ask what age you held a gun or who you saw shot dead, but have you been hungry?” “Yes, miss, hungry, plenty times. Our father locks up the kitchen. We never see him. We don’t know what he does. We wait for him whole day to eat.” I asked, “Did anyone hurt you?” Three downturned mouths face me. “Yes, miss, plenty licks.” “Mother or father?” “Both, miss.” “Anyone else?” “Yes, miss.”

They don’t know where their mother is. She lives somewhere with another man. Further down the drain track, a woman, “Miss Lorna,” stands at her verandah. I ask if I can come in. She invites us into her cluttered home. Inside one room lives her 30-year-old son with wasted legs. He can’t walk. The family thinks it’s obeah. Miss Lorna from Grenada has lived for 30 years with her disabled son beneath homes, amidst puddles of fish and rainwater. She worked in the La Basse. Her son, with a big stomach, crawls about, on his belly, from mattress to toilet. That’s his life. He says he believes he will walk one day, but he never goes out. The wheelchair is untouched. His eyes are hopeless.

Further down the drain we meet three women playing allfours under a galvanised shed. The heavily pregnant one is smoking into the face of the other pregnant one. They each have six children already. They are 29 years old. No sign of the children.

The childless one, to my question as to whether she wanted a job, replied, “Yeah,” impatient to get on with the game. This is a cocooned world with its own rules. I would soon encounter the school the Children’s Ark helped build, Each One Teach One. My leaping faith at this nurturing preschool in the midst of hopelessness, is obscured by a shocking act done by one preschooler to another. 


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur