Christmas on the seawall
By Angela Osborne
December 22, 2002
This might be the season to be jolly, but for some of us it's not all drinks and fun. Sunday Stabroek spoke to three families who live by the seawall and asked how they were making out at this time of year.
Joan Donald has been living near the seawall for more than a year. She has nine children between the ages of seventeen and five, six of whom - Leon, Alzemo, Alita, Paul (who has a hole in his heart), Amella and Loren - currently live with her. The older children, she said, lived with her godmother because she wanted a better life for them.
Donald said her reason for living beside the ocean was due to the fact that she could not afford to pay for rented accommodation, as well as because she and her mother couldn't get along. She had been encouraged by a friend, she said, to make the seawall her home.
Donald said she stopped working at a security firm with which she had previously been employed, because she wanted to spend quality-time with her children and to care for them properly. "My children and school are very important to me and I had to leave the work because I wanted to be there to make sure that everything is alright with them during the day."
She went on to say that at one time she used to have a stand selling sweets, but since she could not make a turnover fast enough to maintain it, she abandoned the effort.
In answer to the question as to how they survived, Donald replied, "I does go on the tarmac and hang out with me friends and catch a money here and there." She also had a very good friend who gave her anything, but she only asked when it was necessary. "I don't want to take advantage of the situation," she said, "so I does only ask he when them children really need anything."
Food for the Poor had also helped her out a good deal; in fact all the furniture in her home had come from that organisation. At one time they had also brought her rations on a monthly basis, although that had now slowed, she explained.
The father (who lives on the seawall too) of her last four children had started to help her out with them, by giving them food on a daily basis, but he made no monetary contribution to their upkeep, she said.
"I want my children to have a good Christmas; it might not be much but by the grace of God, I am hoping that I can at least cook something nice for them," was her response when asked how she intended to spend the holidays. She continued by saying that she would do anything for her kids, and that she tried to keep herself in order because if anything were to happen to her there would be no one to care for them. She also emphasised that she had no intention of having any of her children go into an orphanage.
Donald indicated that she wanted to go back to work but she would only take a night job because she wanted to be there in the day with her children. Starting a new job, she said, would have to wait until January 2003, as this year would soon be over.
Donald said she had started constructing her own home (she lives in someone else's place) but she did not have sufficient material to continue the process. The building had a frame, and although she had some zinc for the roof, it was not enough to complete it.
Another seawall resident is Terence Maxwell. He told this newspaper that he and his girlfriend had been living near the Luckhoo swimming pool for the last ten years.
He referred to the housing problem, which prevented them from getting anywhere to live. He said that they had paid as much as $750 per night for somewhere to sleep in the old days, so his uncle had suggested that he come and build a house near the pool and live with him.
Maxwell claimed that he had applied to the Ministry of Housing for a house lot, but had never been successful. He had been maintaining the pool and its environs, he said: "The City Council is responsible for the upkeep of the pool but they are doing nothing; I try to keep the place tidy, by weeding it and cleaning around its environs, but it is hard."
Maxwell noted that he was thankful that he had no children, and as such was not as "bad off" as the rest of the people living in the area. His Christmas wish was that someone could help him to patch the hole in the pool, so that he could catch tilapia again, which had been his source of income at one time. He was also hoping to get some farming equipment, as he would like to farm on the fertile land around the area. He explained that he earned his living by weeding people's yards.
The main concern of the seawall residents was that there was no running water. Commenting on the situation, Maxwell said that they used to get water from a standpipe outside the well in the area, but this came to an end after strangers used to go there and waste the water, so it had been removed.
He said they were now forced to sneak around in order to get water, and that this was affecting the children because many mornings they were late or couldn't make it to school because there was no water for them to bathe with.
Lorainne Edwards, is a mother of four children who has been living by the seawall for the past six years. She went there because she did not have the money to pay for the land she had been granted by the Ministry of Housing at Great Diamond.
A single parent with nowhere else to live, she said that she had applied for twenty-five jobs, and received only one reply indicating that the vacancy had been filled two weeks before she sent in her application.
She maintains her family with the money she gets from public assistance. Earlier this year, Edwards said she took a loan from a credit union to start a business of her own - selling drinks on the seawall - but that came to a dramatic end when she was robbed at gunpoint at her front door. Unable to repay the loan, Edwards feared that she would end up in jail and all hope would be lost for her children.
As for celebrating the festive season, Edwards said, "nothing, absolutely nothing would be done; I have no money, there would be no toys, no food, no cakes - nothing that I was accustomed to when I was small."
Her wish this year is for either the President or someone to come and visit and throw a party for the children - there are twenty-eight in all. "That's my wish, for the children to enjoy cake, dance to a little music, have some food and get some toys and clothes for the festive season."
Edwards said in earlier days, the residents could have gone to the abattoir and collected meat, but this practice had come to an end: "Everything has to be bought, even the workers there have to pay for their meat."
Her main concern about living in the area was the lack of electricity and their safety on the whole. She also said that she wished something could be done about the debris which was left in the gap in front of their homes after a high tide. She said whenever there was a high tide, there was a lot of cleaning up to do afterward, since a lot of stuff got washed in from the sea.