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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Hard times force women to beg on nation’s streets

COVID-19’s im­pact on T&T can be felt in vir­tu­al­ly all sec­tors of the coun­try such as the econ­o­my, health­care sys­tem, food and en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­tries and ed­u­ca­tion.

In Sep­tem­ber, Fi­nance Min­is­ter Colm Im­bert said the Gov­ern­ment had screened 21,656 ap­pli­ca­tions for salary re­lief grants in 2021 val­ued at $1,500, to sup­port pri­vate-sec­tor work­ers af­fect­ed by the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic.

If you look at the vari­a­tion in Na­tion­al In­sur­ance (NIS) con­tri­bu­tions be­tween 2019 and 2021, there were ap­prox­i­mate­ly 100,000 few­er con­tri­bu­tions. One can con­nect the re­duc­tion in NIS con­tri­bu­tions to the loss of em­ploy­ment.

Co­or­di­na­tor of the Con­fed­er­a­tion of Re­gion­al Busi­ness Cham­bers Jai Lelad­hars­ingh said that based on a sur­vey done by that group, 6,000 busi­ness­es had closed per­ma­nent­ly, re­sult­ing in more than 13,000 peo­ple los­ing their jobs.

For many, who be­came un­em­ployed, re­dun­dant or fur­loughed, they had to re­sort to dras­tic mea­sures to sur­vive dur­ing the pan­dem­ic.

Hun­dreds of peo­ple have ex­haust­ed their life sav­ings, chil­dren’s uni­ver­si­ty tu­ition, re­sort­ed to pawn­ing their valu­ables, hav­ing their ve­hi­cles re­pos­sessed and their hous­es fore­closed to stave off hunger and pay util­i­ty bills.

Oth­ers found cre­ative ways to adapt and sur­vive in a COVID-19 world, now in the midst of the new Omi­cron vari­ant by rein­vent­ing them­selves, learn­ing new skills and turn­ing hob­bies and craft in­to small busi­ness­es such as gar­den­ing and bak­ing.

Un­for­tu­nate­ly, some peo­ple have fall­en through the cracks and so­cial ser­vices se­cu­ri­ty net. Dur­ing the Christ­mas sea­son, there seems to be an in­crease in peo­ple so­lic­it­ing in malls and pop­u­lar spots through­out the coun­try. Most con­cern­ing is that some of the women have young chil­dren with them.

There are al­so some mi­grants who are al­so on the street beg­ging for mon­ey to sur­vive. There are sev­er­al In­dige­nous Warao women from Venezuela cradling lit­tle chil­dren in their arms who can be seen some­times on High Street, San Fer­nan­do ask­ing for mon­ey in their di­alect and not Span­ish.

Dur­ing a down­pour on Tues­day, Oni­ka ‘Mar­i­on’ Pem­ber­ton, 42, had her lit­tle tray sell­ing sweets, bis­cuits, ear­rings, pens and pen­cils, at the side of Re­pub­lic Bank, on Aber­crom­by Street, Port-of-Spain.

Her two-year-old son was sound asleep across her lap and cov­ered with a warm jack­et.

Onika Pemberton sells candy with her son on Abercromby Street, Port-of-Spain.


Speak­ing to the Sun­day Guardian Pem­ber­ton said, “I’m proud to say I worked at dif­fer­ent com­pa­nies be­fore like a clean­ing com­pa­ny, and a food ser­vice.

“I couldn’t keep up with cer­tain shifts and jug­gling what was go­ing on in my life; my hands were full.

“I have a teenag­er, two younger chil­dren, and the ba­by. I have a place to stay in Barataria but I don’t be home every day.

“I have to make ends meet. I’m do­ing this to keep busy. Some­times I’m up and down and go where the sales are, my reg­u­lar cus­tomers, nor­mal­ly by Sub­way, Ed­ward Street.”

She said she had re­turned from the mall for some food, her son is well tak­en care of, she packs his milk drink, and food or buys for him if nec­es­sary.

Pem­ber­ton re­vealed that she fell dur­ing her preg­nan­cy but her son was healthy.

When asked if she knew about the Min­istry of So­cial De­vel­op­ment and Fam­i­ly Ser­vices grants or food cards for needy peo­ple, she re­spond­ed that she didn’t know how to ac­cess their ser­vices.

To­day (Box­ing Day) is Teneille Vil­lafana’s 31st birth­day.

Hav­ing been laid off from the gam­ing in­dus­try, she has re­sort­ed to hold­ing up a card­board sign say­ing ‘help need­ed, food stuff’ at Shoppes of Mar­aval.

Vil­lafana said, “Since last year, I lost my job as a wait­ress in a casi­no. I ap­plied to sev­er­al jobs and they nev­er called back like fac­to­ry jobs and a bis­cuit com­pa­ny.

“When I called for a job in­ter­view last time, a man sex­u­al­ly ha­rassed me on the phone.

“I tried sell­ing kitchen tow­els on the com­pound but a su­per­mar­ket su­per­vi­sor told me he doesn’t want me sell­ing on there.

“Af­ter that, I hold up a sign to see if it can get help be­cause I have to feed my six-year-old daugh­ter, my sis­ter takes care of her when I’m out here.”

She dis­closed that she asked Fitzger­ald Hinds, Min­is­ter of Na­tion­al Se­cu­ri­ty for some mon­ey at a near­by store one morn­ing and he claimed he had no mon­ey, and she nev­er asked him again af­ter that in­ci­dent.

Vil­lafana, from Barataria, re­vealed that she fell on a piece of steel and dam­aged the nerves in her left knee and she can’t stand up too long on her feet and had to go for ther­a­py.

Labour Minister Stephen McClashie

She stat­ed that she tried as­sess­ing a re­lief grant from the Min­istry of So­cial De­vel­op­ment and Fam­i­ly Ser­vices to no avail.

Labour Min­is­ter Stephen Mc­Clashie said that he did not have up­dat­ed un­em­ploy­ment sta­tis­tics for the en­tire coun­try, the Cen­tral Sta­tis­ti­cal Of­fice (CSO) gath­ers such da­ta, and not the min­istry, how­ev­er, it was time-de­layed by sev­er­al months.

He re­vealed that there were about 4,200 for­mal re­trench­ment no­tices, how­ev­er, that did not in­clude peo­ple from the in­for­mal econ­o­my such as from the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try who had been laid off or fur­loughed.

Mc­Clashie stat­ed that un­em­ploy­ment fig­ures were start­ing to low­er as dif­fer­ent parts of the econ­o­my were re­open­ing in con­junc­tion with safe zones.

Pres­i­dent of the Sin­gle Moth­ers As­so­ci­a­tion of T&T (SMATT) Sher­maine Wick­ham-Howe re­port­ed that she was see­ing a pat­tern where some women were tak­ing their chil­dren with them on the streets while beg­ging.

She said she could un­der­stand and sym­pa­thise if they reached their break­ing point but there were al­ways oth­er op­tions.

Wick­ham-Howe opined if they reached that stage where the women had no one in their cir­cle to as­sist them or didn’t try any­where else, go­ing out reg­u­lar­ly with their chil­dren to get help from the pub­lic was not eth­i­cal us­ing chil­dren for sym­pa­thy and the kind­heart­ed­ness of peo­ple to get bags of gro­ceries or cash turn­ing it in­to a trend was wrong.

She re­lat­ed if the Min­istry of So­cial De­vel­op­ment and Fam­i­ly Ser­vices were no­ti­fied of their plight, they will help the fam­i­ly with a food card af­ter they were as­sessed and an in­ves­ti­ga­tion con­duct­ed.

Wick­ham-Howe re­vealed that be­sides the min­istry pro­vid­ing gro­ceries, there were oth­er NGOs that can help such as Liv­ing Wa­ters or SMATT and there was a list of NGOs and groups that did char­i­ta­ble work on the min­istry’s site.

She said as the as­so­ci­a­tion was reg­is­tered with the min­istry, they were con­tact­ed by the min­istry if they can ren­der as­sis­tance al­most im­me­di­ate­ly.

Wick­ham-Howe said the as­so­ci­a­tion had been asked by the min­istry to house sev­er­al fam­i­lies and take them off the streets, and pro­vide them with cloth­ing and food sup­plies.

She said the dan­ger was that some peo­ple might want to copy go­ing on the street with chil­dren to hus­tle which was tan­ta­mount to child abuse.

Shaman Rauold Si­mon of the Warao Com­mu­ni­ty of San Fer­nan­do

said that his group had peo­ple on the ground see­ing about the plight of the Warao.

He dis­closed that not on­ly were the Warao in Trinidad, but about sev­en dif­fer­ent in­dige­nous peo­ples from Venezuela as well.

Si­mon said that there was a dou­ble-strike against the Warao; they spoke nei­ther Span­ish or Eng­lish, but their in­dige­nous di­alect.

He re­lat­ed a case of a preg­nant Warao woman with com­pli­ca­tions who was tak­en to a hos­pi­tal, the staff could not un­der­stand what she was say­ing, how­ev­er a mul­ti­lin­gual Venezue­lan trans­lat­ed for her and she was treat­ed suc­cess­ful­ly.

Si­mon re­vealed as the Warao were not T&T na­tion­als, they didn’t have ac­cess to the so­cial ser­vices net­work of the coun­try, how­ev­er, a church group and friends pro­vid­ed them with food, a place to stay, but not all will come for­ward and ask for help.

Social Development and Services Minister Donna Cox.


When the Min­is­ter of So­cial De­vel­op­ment and Fam­i­ly Ser­vices Don­na Cox was con­tact­ed and asked what as­sis­tance can be pro­vid­ed to these women and their chil­dren on Thurs­day, she de­ferred the Sun­day Guardian to the Chil­dren’s Au­thor­i­ty of T&T.

Cheryl Moses-Williams, Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Man­ag­er Chil­dren’s Au­thor­i­ty of T&T replied on Thurs­day.

The Chil­dren’s Au­thor­i­ty of T&T notes that the cur­rent pan­dem­ic has neg­a­tive­ly im­pact­ed fam­i­lies, with many ex­pe­ri­enc­ing fi­nan­cial chal­lenges or deal­ing with the loss of a bread­win­ner. As such, the pub­lic is urged to be their ‘broth­er’s keep­er’ by sup­port­ing fam­i­lies who may re­quire food items, cloth­ing and ba­by sup­plies. The pub­lic is al­so re­mind­ed to con­tact the au­thor­i­ty’s hot­line at 996 if they sus­pect a child may be in need of care and pro­tec­tion.

Once the au­thor­i­ty re­ceives a re­port, it will con­duct a psy­choso­cial in­ves­ti­ga­tion to de­ter­mine what in­ter­ven­tions would be re­quired to sup­port the child and fam­i­ly. In­ter­ven­tions can in­clude, but are not lim­it­ed to: – Re­fer­rals to the Na­tion­al Fam­i­ly Ser­vices Di­vi­sion of the Min­istry of So­cial De­vel­op­ment and Fam­i­ly Ser­vices to ac­cess so­cial sup­port ser­vices – Coun­selling in­ter­ven­tion, as may be nec­es­sary – Re­fer­rals to ser­vices for as­sis­tance to find shel­ter with the sup­port of oth­er agen­cies, NGOs, and faith-based or­gan­i­sa­tions (FBOs) – Re­fer­rals to ser­vices to ac­cess the health­care sys­tem for med­ical and men­tal health needs – Work­ing with the Stu­dent Sup­port Ser­vices Di­vi­sion of the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion to de­ter­mine ed­u­ca­tion­al needs (as nec­es­sary) for the chil­dren. It should al­so be not­ed that it is an of­fence to al­low a child to beg. Sec­tion 5 (1) of the Chil­dren Act, 2012 states that: A per­son who— (a) caus­es or pro­cures any child; or (b) hav­ing re­spon­si­bil­i­ty for a child, al­lows that child, to be in any street, premis­es, or oth­er place for the pur­pose of beg­ging, with­out the writ­ten ap­proval of the Au­thor­i­ty, com­mits an of­fence and is li­able on sum­ma­ry con­vic­tion to a fine of three thou­sand dol­lars and to im­pris­on­ment for six months. The pub­lic is re­mind­ed that “Child Pro­tec­tion is Every­body’s Busi­ness”, there­fore any con­cerns about the wel­fare of a child should be re­port­ed to the Au­thor­i­ty at 996 or the Po­lice at 999.

James Mackreides
'Mac' is a short tempered former helicopter pilot , now a writer based in Sofia, Bulgaria. Loves dogs, the outdoors and staying far away from the ocean.

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