The Trinidad Guardian wrote an article stating:
Hard to escape the cycle of poverty
As its name suggests, the area known as Train Line in Marabella, South Trinidad, is located along an old rail line. However, there are very few reminders in this community of that long gone era when trains were a major mode of transportation in Trinidad. Decades later, the area is filled with overflowing communal latrine pits and tiny, termite-infested shacks crammed so close together, there is barely space for a bicycle to pass between them. This poverty-stricken community, commonly known as The Line, is home to some 600 residents. One of them is Clysterine Yarde, 61. She has been living on The Line for 15 years and barely survives on a monthly $1,300 Social Welfare cheque.
“Many times I have nothing to eat. I go sometimes by Petrotrin to beg for a bake and sometimes the lady would give me a free juice. That is how I survive. “We have one latrine in the front and one in the back for people living on this side of the line but right now it full to the brim and smelling. We don’t have money to buy pitch oil to put in it,” Yarde said. Her neighbour, Kathleen Edinborough earns $800 a fortnight as a labourer in the Forestry Division, Ministry of Agriculture. She supplements that meagre income by preparing and selling food. The roof of Edinborough’s tiny shack is filled with holes. In the back room, she shares a twin-sized bed with her 24-year-old daughter and five-month-old granddaughter.
On dilapidated shelves, bundles of clothes, cooking utensils and a stove are among the family’s few possessions. With the rainy season near, residents are worried about an infestation of rats and other disease-carrying vermin. Councillor for the area, Jason Williams, said Train Line residents were living in “extreme circumstances.” “It is critical. In several houses there are about eight to ten people. “Mainly around Christmas people step in to assist but it is not sustained,” he said. Williams said most residents had lived on The Line all their lives, trapped in a cycle of poverty that passed from one generation to then next.
Home in a car
On the other side of the country, a Valencia family calls an old Toyota their home. Their personal effects, including toothbrushes and underwear, are stored on the dashboard. There are also small jars of jam and peanut butter, the food items this family survives on most days. For Deodath Borris, 30, and his common-law wife Rajestri Surat, the car, PAT 2709, is their most prized possession. It has been their only shelter since their shack at Tattoo Trace was completely destroyed in a fire about two months ago. Borris said his family lost everything but the car and the clothes on their backs. Borris’ two children from a previous relationship, Nathaniel, eight, and Daniel, ten, have been unable to attend their school, Valencia Government Primary, because their books and uniforms were destroyed in the fire.
“Is only when my wife get a little end to pick peppers, that is how I was able to buy back some underwear and clothes and a few books to send the children to school,” Borris said. Surat’s 21-year-old daughter, Kamini Ramdeen, lives in a wooden shack at Tapana, Valencia. In recent years, the area, once a vast expanse of forest, has being cleared to make way for an ever-increasing number of squatters’ shacks. Ramdeen, a mother of two young children, said she dropped out of school at 16 and “living in the bush” is all she knows.
“When the night come is total darkness. Sometimes when my husband work I get money to buy a little groceries but other times I depend of my mother-in-law to give me a plate of food,” she said.
Society creating poverty
Poverty can never be eradicated, according to Dr Ronald Marshall, of the Department of Behavioural Sciences at the University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine. “The system is throwing up poverty and if poverty is growing, it is because the system is throwing out poverty faster than it could get people moving out of poverty and into a higher socio-economic bracket,” said Marshall, who pointed out that more jobs were being lost than were being provided. “Less is being done in healthcare in terms of resolving certain chronic diseases than people are coming down with them. A greater ration of persons are also dropping out of school than remaining in school where they could be fortified,” he said. Marshall said there were different concepts of poverty, fundamental among them absolute poverty and relative poverty. He said the most common way to measure poverty was using a marker of US$5 a day.
“If we’re taking about absolute poverty that would be people living below the poverty line and below the income of US $5 a day. “Let’s suppose there are people in absolute poverty… Tell me where they are because they don’t come out on the streets. So where does absolute poverty reside in T&T?” Marshall said. He said even in the poorest of families, their income could be supplemented by odd jobs or short seasonal contracts. “When people apply for assistance, can we call that absolute poverty? They are not making that distinction, so they lump the whole thing as poverty. “Poverty is a phenomenon and at the same time you’re talking about poor people. So poor people are the people who are affected by the phenomenon and they have negligible or no access to resources, including water and sanitation but the State will cover that,” Marshall said.
He said despite social programmes geared towards empowering poor people, the cycle of poverty was perpetual. “When you are empowered to look after yourself, you don’t adopt a particular style that predisposes you to be poor. For example, in low-income families where the father drinks and the mother is unemployed, they cannot see about their health and they have to work long hours in the low skill jobs. “If those poor people have families they cannot give their children that nutritional content and they do badly at school and cannot go to school on a regular basis. Their parents cannot give them subsidies to cover clothes and books up to a certain level, so the cycle continues,” Marshall said. Low-income areas like Belmont, Laventille, parts of Morvant and parts of rural areas had T&T’s highest concentrations of poverty, according to Marshall.
There was also a clear distinction between poverty in urban and the rural areas. Rural areas, Marshall explained, represented a “way of life” where people felt no shame in drawing upon natural resources like a spring or river to wash and bathe. “People would easily do that without anybody attacking their image because it is an acceptable part of the community. Everybody does it,” he said. “But take those same poor people and bring them to the urban areas. The glare of materialism starts to make them feel bad. They feel they must showcase themselves and that is the problem we have here. It is called class posturing.” Marshall said it could sometimes be difficult to distinguish who was in the middle class and who was in the lower class and poverty was often portrayed as “very political and convenient.”
“When someone stands up and says they are going to eradicate poverty my question is tell me how many poor people are there and when you’re finished tell me how many people have moved out of poverty. The thing is too open-ended,” Marshall said. According to the Central Statistical Office, there were some 28,000 people living below the poverty line in T&T.