A CITY WEEPS!

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On how we lost the message of Mahatmas Gandhi

OPINION

It was Mahatmas Gandhi, that famous Indian lawyer, politician, social activist, and writer who noted that “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members” because how we treat our vulnerable is the moral test that extends be­yond the partisan politics of our day.

It is a moral test not only of the politicians who run the country or the religious leaders who pontifi­cate to their membership or even social activists who seek to raise revenue to assist in addressing this problem. It is the moral test of ev­ery citizen of Trinidad and Tobago.
Since time immemorial, we have been faced with the challenge of brothers and sisters facing unfortu­nate circumstances, some of whom have been rendered homeless and others who have become landless. There are many children who have become orphans, sisters who are widows and brothers who are wid­owers. And yet in the face of all these troubles, our social conscience has not been pricked enough to de­velop a strategy for those who un­fortunately have become a part of this sorry demographic.
And so this week was a very disturbing one for me after I de­cided to journey into the heart of Port of Spain, our capital which was once the pride and joy of the Caribbean but a place where no longer I take much joy in tra­versing. Yet I ventured forth to see what was taking place in the
City.
Sure, I experienced a sense of trepidation given the senseless violence which has overtaken my country, the ruthless vagabonds who are not afraid to discharge their illegal and unlawful weapons without due consideration killing innocent people. And the others who seek to distress commuters and shoppers. Yet against this back­ground I sought to experience what we had become as a people……..as a nation.
I was indeed surprised to see the quantum of solid waste piled up in front of some businesses and food vendors plying their trade without the requisite display of badges to legitimise their right to sell food in the City.
I watched as homeless peo­ple walked aimlessly by. Oth­ers were still seated, some fast asleep on cardboard boxes while the casual mendicant will move among the people soliciting money from those who chose to
charitable.

The days of His Worship Mayor Eddie Taylor

The streets were indeed dirty and I stood there reminiscing of the days of His Worship Eddie Taylor the then Mayor of Port of Spain, who ensured that our capital was the place that all wanted to be. But the presence of human faecal matter, the pungent and nauseating stench of urine mixed with scents symptomatic of what we encounter when we pass close to the dump were nothing more than a reflection of a city and a nation in crisis.
What was worse was the sick among us, the ones with swollen feet, pus oozing out of cracked skins and I took note of the decent among us who would not even look upon our shame and our disgrace. And there were even others who simply crossed the road without any pity or love for the vulnerable among us.
I could not believe that this was happening in a country of close to 1.3 million people; a nation which takes pride in singing “Here ev­ery creed and race finds an equal place.
I was shattered to think that this was happening in my country, a place where over the last four years we spent close to 203 billion dol­lars. And yet, after all that expendi­ture, we could find no meaningful strategy to rid our capital of the dis­grace that is all too evident for us to see. This would never have hap­pened in far off Singapore or even in nearby Barbados!
I was appalled to note that this was happening in our country among citizens who purchase ex­pensive African wear and don it on in celebration of Emancipation. I was shocked to know that this was happening in a country where our East Indian brothers and sisters would collectively be spending mil­lions of dollars to light up our coun­try for Divali and yet, even in the spirit of illumination, these unfor­tunate persons would be left in utter
darkness.
Trinidad & Tobago is a plural society where many, come Decem­ber, would be celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, where the signifi­cance of his birth will pejorate into drunkenness and revelry. Yet for many, the only responsibility that will be felt is a sense of show to en­sure that everyone sees us giving to these unfortunate people a plate of food for the occasion.

It is just a mythical charade

There is no meaningful, sustain­able strategy to emancipate our vulnerable and heal their wounds. It is just a mythical charade that compromises the so-called moral fabric which we claim we have. Yet, as a people, we seem satisfied with leaving things just the way we have found them.
How we treat defenceless people is the question for which as a na­tion we need to find an answer.
Ignoring their plight betrays the profound ignorance we possess and tells us so many things about the God that each claims she or he serves.
Choosing to look on the other side is seeking to shy away from facing the uncomfortable moral facts that questions who we are.
We have to find a way to develop a strategy for human development that must include the homeless people especially our street chil­dren.
We have to find a way to im­prove the quality of life for the so­cially disadvantaged among us and make a serious change in the lives they experience.
We need to start with a dec­laration about the protection of their rights and the institution of safety measures for those among us who are disadvantaged. But we simply cannot continue the way we are, without becoming an embarrassment within the global
village.
Look at the condition of our pavements which forced me to muse concerning the difficulty ex­perienced by the differently chal­lenged among us.
The Government’s latest agenda is a 2030 Vision, superseding the 2020 Vision which died a natural death long before its deadline date arrived.
But this time, included in the 2030 Vision should be a develop­ment project that seeks to improve the health outcomes of every citizen of Trinidad and Tobago through the introduction of quality health care services across our nation.
Just only two weeks ago the Trinidad and Tobago Police carried out a surprise on TLM in Arouca and found 69 people some who were caged suffering from mental illness. Some of them were taken off the streets and placed in the home.

We must not continue like this

We need our Government to evolve with a plan that addresses the social determinates that are de­stroying these vulnerable groups; social determinates that result in a lack of employment, food and housing insecurity, poor social sup­port and illiteracy.
We cannot continue to treat our at-risk sisters and brothers the way we do. They too are Trinbagonians and deserve the right to be treated accordingly.
We can make a difference by introducing evidence-based inter­ventions, a new social justice para­digm.
We can develop and promote a safe environment and set up an autonomous body to serve as a watchdog to ensure that our vulner­able people have access and enjoy a quality of life that even in their condition makes them proud to be citizens of Trinidad and Tobago.
We must not continue like this.
The time has come for us to put up our hands and be counted, make a difference and break down the barriers that become the obstacles for the provision of service we know we can give.
Let us never forget that our so­ciety will always be judged not by the wealth we have accumulated or how educated some members are but rather by the way we treat the weakest and the vulnerable mem­bers of our society.