Mother of nine has burnt out home rebuilt
Stabroek News
August 16, 2002

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She was married at the tender age of 14 to a man four years her senior who later abandoned her with nine children, penniless and in a shack.

And just when she thought life couldn't get worse, on a sad July evening this year her one-bedroom shack was destroyed by a fire caused by a lighted lamp.

This is the sad story of 33-year-old, Jean Khan who resides at Third Street, Chateau Margot, East Coast Demerara with eight of her nine children. But as the saying goes there is a silver lining behind every dark cloud and for Khan this came in the form of the Central Islamic Organisation of Guyana (CIOG) which has over the years offered support to the impoverished mother of nine.

The religious organisation's most significant contribution to the family was the rebuilding of their home just one month after it was destroyed. The CIOG rebuilt the one-bedroom house to somewhat larger specifications than previously existed, according to its President, Fazeel M Ferouz, at the official handing over of the house yesterday. Other members of the CIOG were also present along with Minister of Housing and Water, Shaik Baksh.

Khan is the mother of Bibi, 17; Sunita, 12, who lives with her grandmother at Triumph, ECD; Rafeek, 11; ten-year-old Safeek; nine-year-old Rafina; eight-year-old Safraz; seven-year-old Reeaz; six-year-old Shaneeza; and four-year-old Shanaz.

The last time Jean heard from her husband of many years was when she was pregnant with the last child. "He use to smoke [drugs] and thief up things from me and neighbours, then he run off and get mad," the woman said when she was asked about her husband. "He must don dead or living some way on the streets."

Since Khan does not work she depends solely on the $12,500 given to her every month by the CIOG which sponsors five of her nine children. The sponsorship began about two years ago when the organisation became aware of the woman's plight.

According to Khan, one evening in July she went to the shop leaving a lighted lamp in her home and upon her return it had been destroyed by fire along with all of her worldly possessions.

Asked if any of the children were in the house at the time the woman said, "no, I does take them every way ah go, I don't leave them nowhere."

She said when she got married, she and her husband lived with his mother in the front house on the same property, but when her husband started to misbehave they were forced to move. His mother assisted in setting up a little shack for her and the children.

"When me house bun down we use to live from neighbour to neighbour," the woman said. She said that she placed some of the children in an orphanage but they refused to stay so she was forced to beg lodging for all of them and this proved to be difficult.

While the home built by the CIOG is by no means a palace, it is for the Khans; it is a roof over their heads and a place they could call home. The house is bare except for a few kitchen utensils with a kerosene stove, a bed frame with no mattress, a wardrobe and a small carpet. The CIOG president said that the organisation would donate two mattresses to the family and Baksh made the same pledge.

As Khan does not work, a typical day for her is cooking, cleaning and taking care of her children all of whom go to school except for the eldest and the youngest. The eldest is employed at a city store and brings in a small, but much-needed income.

While their mother was speaking to reporters some of the children were tugging at her skirt to gain her attention so they could have some of the goodies left in a bag by the CIOG members.

The woman said that she would not have wanted to have so many children as she is unable to adequately provide for them. "By me marry when ah was 14 nobody use to tell me nothing and quick, quick me mek me children," the woman said, adding that it was after she had her last child that her mother made her "tek stop" so she could not have any more children.

According to her even before her husband left he did not contribute anything to the household, even though he was a vendor. He used all his money to buy drugs to smoke.

"Fuh me, all the days of me life me punishing," the woman lamented.

She is hoping that she would receive some additional assistance from other organisations and maybe the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security but is grateful to the CIOG for all its help. Because there is a dispute over the land where her house was built the CIOG had no way of expanding the home.

Ferouz described Khan's situation as very sad, but pointed out that there were many similar cases and the CIOG has been assisting many families over the years.

Khan's home is the fourth such house built for the year; two are in Zeelugt and one in Agricola. The CIOG aims to build two more in Diamond, one in Grove and another one in the Cummings Lodge Squatting Area.

Ferouz said that they focused on assisting women with children and while they could not provide a "full-fledged home" they helped provide a shelter and then the ladies and youth arms of the organisation work towards providing more assistance such as clothing and food.

"So we are going to try to work with them to provide the basic important essential items quickly...," the CIOG president said.

He added that donations in the form of labour, materials and cash came from the Muslim communities and they "are going to continue this for the very needy, these are people who cannot go to a bank, they don't know how to go to a bank, they can't qualify for a loan." He noted that although the Housing Ministry was giving land some of the impoverished could not pay for the land and as a result the CIOG had raised with the minister the possibility of reducing the cost of the land so that the organisation could help people to put up homes.

Baksh described the CIOG's effort as a "real commendable one" and said that his ministry has recognised that there is a category of the poor that will never be able to access finance from the banks to build their homes. According to him, his ministry intends to support the CIOG initiative to the extent that once the organisation identifies a needy family and agreed to erect a shelter for them, the ministry would apply concessionary pricing or may waive the pricing of the house lot altogether.

"We want to support this initiative and I want to encourage and call upon other religious organisations, the Seventh Day Adventists, the Catholic Church and the Christian community to assist in providing shelter for the poor; the ministry will work in partnership with them," the minister said.

The minister added that he was very concerned about the banks which were not showing flexibility in granting loans to the very poor in society and in hinterland areas. He disclosed that he intends to write to the two mortgage finance institutions expressing his concern. He feels that they should grant loans for a period of 30 years so the repayment rate would be low.