• 24 Feb, 2024

The little boy that Trinidad’s Santa Claus Government forgot

The little boy that Trinidad’s Santa Claus Government  forgot

The little boy that Trinidad’s Santa Claus Government forgot

LITTLE Allon Ramdial of Trinidad and Tobago never really stood a chance. Allon was born to a juvenile mom just over 16, and their home was a cramped room in a fishing facility, metres from Ortoire River, the country’s widest and deepest waterway. Mom Christianna Ramdial did the best with limited amenities in the challenging environment of the fishing depot in Mayaro, where rural neglect is rife.

 

 

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has depicted poverty in the area. “They don’t have clothing, food, shelter, they are poor – old house, nowhere to sleep, no job, no education, no access to health.” Poverty is rampant, especially in rural communities with up to half the number of residents earning no income, UNICEF said.

 

 

More and more people are living under the poverty line, a Central Bank study recently found. The report said that 80.3 per cent of those surveyed “indicated that their gross income averaged $0 and $5,000”. Of those polled, 3.3 per cent were receiving more than $10,000 a month.

 

The government’s social safety net is so porous that many urban well-to-do people are benefiting at the expense of starving, jobless rural residents.

 

 

Income inequality is worsening, “extreme poverty” is on a constant rise, and only a limited number of vulnerable families receive State assistance, according to the Central Bank. Child poverty is rampant, UNICEF said, and the Central Bank stated that “social programmes should be adjusted” to reach the poorest of the poor. Poverty is being aggravated by the worsening jobless rate – one in five workers is on the breadline – and is sometimes a short road to homelessness.

 

Christianna-Ramdial
Photo : Christianna Ramdial

 

 

The body blow to the small and medium-sized business sector during the Covid-19 shutdown added to the poverty count. Without skills, a job or an enabling environment, mom Christianna went pillar to post. That’s the world into which Allon was born. There are no official statistics on the number of homeless, but mental illness and substance abuse add to the crisis. It is a silent issue because there is no national uproar and the authorities are not paying attention.

 

 

The only State-funded homeless centre in Port of Spain, the 31-year-old facility at Riverside Plaza, was recently shut down, throwing 300 residents on the streets. The Ministry of Housing awarded 266 home grants, and Camille Robinson-Regis – with cheerleading from the State media – heralded the measure as an example of “the government’s commitment ... (to) meet the growing needs of families...”

 

 

That is the sum of the recent good news from the State housing sector. The Ministry of Social Development could be properly renamed Ministry of Hamper Giveaway since it merely hands out some food baskets and makes no practical effort to lift the vulnerable out of poverty. In all of this suffering, however, faith-based and charity organisations are providing essentials – especially at this time of the year – to thousands of destitute and needy.

 

Alms-giving by these good neighbour groups is a humanitarian backbone of our country, and they each deserve national appreciation. But homelessness, hunger and hardship are so common that it warrants urgent attention by the authorities.

 

 

Little Allon’s world of deprivation would have led to a lack of food, proper shelter, health care, clothing, and possibly limited educational opportunities. He is the Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot. Allon has been consumed by adversity, but there are thousands of other destitute children without the joy of Christmas. They deserve to be rescued.