The poor with us
It is around five o’ clock in the afternoon and four children ages nine to 11 are outside a small house gathered around a fair-sized flattish stone. They’ve set themselves some task on which they’re concentrating very hard and you wonder what kind of game this is that could so engage their attention.
Every now and again one of them glances up quickly at the sky. These children are in fact racing against the light. They’re trying to complete their homework before it grows dark. There’s no electricity in the house since there are no means of paying the bill. The one oil lamp with its small bit of kerosene has to be used sparingly.
The next day it is obvious to the teacher that the work has been done hurriedly since there’re so many mistakes. But she has no way of knowing an important contributing factor. The children will certainly not provide her with the information.
In another instance, an individual is visiting a home in order to offer some help. “Come around this side,” she is told. She steps inside the house and has to be very careful how she places her feet on the few floorboards left. Where the floorboards end, there’s only a bare dirt-floor. The visitor is not as shocked on this occasion as she was before. She would never have believed just a short while ago that in this present-day Barbados, dirt-floors were still a reality for some.
They’ve asked how to find some people who are in desperate need and have been pointed down a long bushy track. They drive until they reach an area that seems uninhabited. The house is little more than a shack. An elderly-looking man emerges.
“Good morning. We came to bring you a gift.” One individual in the group remembers the change in the man’s body language: the lowering of the head as he puts his arms behind him, his left hand grasping the right elbow; a gesture of humble submission. As he reaches out to take the foodstuff they have brought him, he turns aside and it is obvious that he is crying. “Nobody ever do this for me before.” That day, there is yet another individual in Barbados who knows that there are people whose names he does not know, but who care enough to find him and make sure that he has food to last him for a while.
A woman who is still in her 30s lives with her seven children who are obviously close in age. She is still breast-feeding the youngest. The house is in a state of squalor. The visitor and the woman are having a conversation about her life, her children, their needs and so on.
In the group of children the visitor notices the eldest girl who is 14 years old at the most, although her “baby-face” makes her look even younger. There is something incongruous about the innocence of the child’s face and the fact that she is pregnant. The visitor learns that there is a “stepfather” around and from the woman’s comments, there is little doubt as to who is the father of the child carried by this 14-year old child. Poverty, with its twin sisters of ignorance and desperation, claims yet another victim.
All the incidents above are 100 per cent true and they could be multiplied several times over in this our present Barbados.
Jesus Christ Himself made the very familiar point that the poor would always be with us. I believe He meant that statement to be descriptive rather than prescriptive. In other words, Christ was not passively condoning the existence of poverty but making the point that for many reasons, poverty would continueto be a fact of human life.
As it now stands, we may continue to put pressure on the Government whose duty it certainly is to help the poor. But what is our own responsibility towards our deprived and suffering neighbours?
Thankfully, I can bear witness to the fact that in these difficult economic times, there are those, entirely above board, who are bringing relief to as many as they can with their limited resources. Think what would happen if each of us helped at least one individual or family. Think how we could transform lives and communities if we would only grasp the truth of how much more blessed it is to give than to receive.
Our poor brothers and sisters are waiting on us. HELP!
• Esther Phillips is an educator, poetand editor of BIM: Arts For The 21st Century. Email [email protected]