A Walk in the Beetham II

 

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Category: Trinidad Society 22 Jun 14

 

On that hot day in the Beetham, three people— Simone de la Bastide, Wayne Jordan, and I—gazed at tall grass that had shot above a six-foot-high, 12-by-ten-foot uncovered galvanised enclosure from a different perspective. Simone de la Bastide is known and loved by the people in this area not as the wife of the legal luminary Michael de la Bastide (who, incidentally, is one of their heroes—his name is carved into a plaque at the entrance to this area, along with those of Prince Charles and British High Commissioner Arthur Snell). Some in the Beetham remember that it was Simone—then chairman of her brainchild charity, Women in Action for the Needy and Destitute (Wand), who, 14 years back, helped Wayne Jordan to build a proper school just yards away from this spot.

Jordan’s childhood was spent in the St Michael’s Home for Boys. His mother left him there when she left the country, and his father was not around. Occasionally, perhaps at Christmas or Easter, families who wanted to do more than just give hampers to these boys took him to their homes.

There, he saw privilege in things that most middle-class homes take for granted. Oddly, it was not the soft sheets and toilets that made such an impression on this abandoned child, but the loving care given by the mothers of these families to their children by exposing the children to books, educational tools, etiquette, kindness and ambition.

So when Jordan moved into the Beetham after he got too old to stay at the home, he noticed that lots of children, as old as seven, eight, even ten, were not going to school. They were children of illegal immigrants, or left in the care of older siblings. In 2000, Wayne agreed to teach two boys in exchange for the use of this galvanised enclosure.

Remembering the families who treated him like a son for a weekend, he decided he wanted to “give back” the random love he had received from strangers, and began accepting any child who was unable to go to school.

Gradually, people in the Beetham and environs began sending their children to Jordan’s shed, where he taught them whatever he knew—not just Maths, English and Science, but kindness to one another. The children came, some barefoot, some with slippers, some in rags, but they came. The earth was their floor. It was hard and cold but they had access to an outdoor latrine. A kind neighbour gave them cold water, and others donated snacks. There was no electricity and they left before it got dark, to go to their quiet, often abandoned homes. Jordan’s school had grown to 60 children, who were being rained on and burned in the heat of the midday sun.

By then, Simone de la Bastide got involved through her NGO, Wand. Wand was helping destitute women and children, drug addicts and people in need of medical attention. When Jordan, fed up with watching his students suffer, moved to an abandoned concrete structure nearby, Wand, under Simone’s stewardship, flew into action, adding electricity to the building, a suspended ceiling, a finished concrete floor, bathroom facilities, part furnishings and part library. The UK High Commission pitched in and that year, Prince Charles visited this “All in One Child Development Centre.”

Just a few yards from the shed, Jordan and Simone de la Bastide showed me a beautifully run school, a product of their labour. When that got going, Jordan moved on, and so did Simone: this time, to build a pre-school— Each One Teach One—in the Beetham, run by Jordan. It is one of three projects of Simone’s newly-formed NGO, the Children’s Ark.

When we arrived at the school, Simone dropped to her knees to talk to the children, who were seated on specially-made miniature furniture. The children, most of them from parents of poor families from Beetham, Sea Lots, Laventille, Morvant and Trou Macaque, smiled with delighted recognition.

Jordan showed me the miniature toilets. This is nothing short of magic in a place where toddlers fall into toilet bowls. The children used to sit on chairs with their heads too low to write on tables. Simone got the financing from the Children’s Ark, and the army to help with the labour.

The school is clean but understaffed. Jordan seems to do everything. I recalled that the Ministry of Education promised with fanfare to fund the running of the Beetham pre-school. This promise has not been kept. I wonder what the social workers of this country do. Are they ghosts? Nobody will know if a child never goes to school, or goes hungry, or a woman gets beaten up, or a boy is tempted with drugs.

On our way home, Simone asked me if I had seen what she saw that day, despite Jordan’s best efforts: a four-year-old boy pulling a two-year-old girl to kiss his protruding belly button; the three-year-old, his face set with the rage of a cold-blooded man; the boys on the walls, with their bright potential setting faster than a single sunset—the boys we so easily call “animals” when they kill.

Wayne Jordan and Simone do what they can. I’m starting to think it’s we—who neglect the vulnerable amidst us—who are the real animals.

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur