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Jamaica: Poor, pressing on

sherieholder, [email protected]

Jamaica: Poor, pressing on

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According to the latest available data, close to half a million Jamaicans are living in poverty on an island with approximately 2.7 million people.
Pansy Needham is one of them.
She lives in an abandoned building in Rae Town with her four children. The rundown building, which once housed a basic school and community centre, is now the home to 27 people – 16 adults and 11 children.
With a lot of improvisation, the building has been transformed into several low-end condos.
Needham’s shack is located to the back of the property. Her one-bedroom is the size of a matchbox. Her children sleep on the bed. She sleeps on the floor. It is hard to see how she finds space on the ground since the bed occupies most of the space in the ramshackle dwelling.
When the latest poverty figures were published in late 2010, it was labelled a crisis. It gave an academic view of the living conditions of poor Jamaicans. But our news team went in search of poverty to paint a portrait of the daily struggles that many Jamaicans face.
For three days and two nights, their lives painted a moving portrait of poverty: the abject art story.
The Jamaica Survey of Living Conditions (JSLC) 2009 showed that the poverty line for the reference family of five was an annual income of $416,116.98 and the poverty line that was used to determine the percentage of people who were poor was $110,099.56 in income per year.
Needham and her children are seemingly living way below the poverty line.
Recession hits pockets
The JSLC 2009, published in November 2010, showed that thousands of Jamaicans slipped below the poverty line that year. “Poverty has been on a downward trajectory for more than a decade. Thus, the increase to 16.5 per cent, up from 12.3 per cent in 2008, suggests an anomalous situation that can be attributed to the worldwide recession,” read a section of the survey.
The living conditions survey, a joint publication of the Planning Institute of Jamaica and the Statistical Institute of Jamaica, stated that the former entity uses an absolute poverty line, which is the cost of basic foods and non-food items that ensures an acceptable minimum standard of living for a reference family of five. The JSLC 2009 explained that any household whose per capita consumption is at or below this line is classified as poor.
The country waits for the advent of the 23rd fielding of the survey of living conditions – the 2010 edition – to see if the nagging global economic downturn has shoved more Jamaicans below the dreaded poverty line.
Whatever the figures, Needham and her family are sure to be count-ed in that number. The 32-year-old has given birth to six children. One of her sons died at a young age, and her second child – an 11-year old girl – is living overseas with her aunt. Her firstborn, a son, is 14 years. Her other sons are four and two years old. Needham’s youngest daughter is just 10 months old.
Not always bad
She has been living at the centre for nine months. Things were not always this bad. Needham lived overseas in her teen years with her aunt in Bronx, New York. Bad behaviour was the reason her stay in the United States was cut short.
“Mi never did a behave myself. I fought all the time at school,” she told our news team. Her tone was awash with regret. “Every day. Every waking day,” was her response when asked if she regretted not making more of the opportunity she had overseas.
She got pregnant at 16 and had a miscarriage. The other year, Needham was pregnant again and gave birth to her eldest son. With no father to support her and her son, Needham sought employment at a go-go club and was employed as dancer. She did that for nine months.
“Mi neva really like it. I just did it to maintain my child,” she said. Since then, she has worked in several bars. Her last job was at a now-defunct newspaper, which closed its doors in 2008.
After that, she did a few domestic  jobs  and even tried prostitution.
“One time, mi use to sell mi body but mi stop,” she whispered with sobriety. She has sent out at least one résumé but did not get a response. Now she hustles every day to feed her family. Needham accepts that she is poor, but rejects the idea of abject poverty.
“I am poor. It’s hard to find food sometimes to give the kids to eat. I wouldn’t say I’m in abject poverty, because the good Lord blesses me sometimes.”
She is facing hard times, but Needham doesn’t know where it all went wrong for her.
“I don’t know what is the answer. I don’t know where I went wrong.
“Probably, if mi did listen when my aunty talk to me, it wouldn’t reach to this,” she theorised.
Struggling to find way out
Sometimes she is able to find two or three meals per day for the children when she hits the street to hustle, which mostly consists of begging. But there are days when only one meal can be found. Then there are the days when no meals are found. It happened last week.
Needham said whatever she hustles on the streets is complemented by the money that the father of her 10-month-old daughter gives her. She doesn’t see a way out of poverty.
“No I don’t see a way out,” said a forlorn Needham.
The mother of five said if she gets some capital, she would start a little business that sells dry goods and liquor. Up to last month, she did not have a stove and often depended on cooked meals from her neighbours at the centre and her best friend.
Needham also struggles with health issues. She told our news team that, in recent times, a blood vessel in her head ruptured and she had to be hospitalised.
Needham’s living conditions bring hunger pangs in her stomach and sadness in her heart.
The bathroom Needham and her family uses along with two other families at the centre is located on the main building. The bathroom is in an advanced state of disrepair.
“I’m not happy. I’m not going to be happy because I can’t afford certain things for my kids,” she said.