By Tracey Khan – Drakes
[www.inewsguyana.com]– Tiger Bay is a community, situated in the Capital City, Georgetown. Maybe you’ve passed through the community on your way to a number of popular businesses on Water Street, but paid little attention to the condition under which many families are forced to live; or maybe you noticed but paid no mind anyway.
Well, allow me to walk you through my experience on my recent visit and interaction with the people of that community.
I had the opportunity of seeing life through the eyes of those who are fighting desperately to keep their “head above water” as we say in Guyana. It was an eye opening experience and made me realise that even though I am not where I want to be in life, I still have so much to be thankful for and I am sure you do as well.
I was told that “life in Tiger Bay is life in the Ghetto”. Some of the residents there do not see a way out, they do not envision a bright future or a life that is worth fighting for, but nevertheless they are taking things ‘one day at a time’.
Poverty is a word that is familiar to the youngest child and oldest man in the ‘Bay’. It is a word they hear daily and even thought the “Ghetto life” is a hard one, they continue to ‘war’.
Single parenting is the way of life for many women who are both mother and father to as many as five to seven children. This task has proven to be a major challenge for most of the women I interviewed; one that they continue to do their best at to ensure their children survive each day.
One such mother is Sharon Hinds, who is caring for seven children on her own. Most of her children are school aged. Hinds has been living in Tiger Bay for the past 18 years and has experienced many trying and hard days.
She puts food on the table by vending from time to time.
“Sometimes I go and I do little selling, but the money don’t be enough… they have to get school clothes, little clothes to wear and we have to eat, so the money don’t be too enough……The most important thing, me and my children does eat every day,” she said.
For some of us, the most important things are often materialistic, but for this mother it would be to put food on the table and feed her children.
Even though she secured a plot of land from her father in Sophia, building a home has become secondary to feeding her children.
“I need help to build up a lil thing on a piece of land I get in Sophia so that me and my children could move, cause we suppose to move from here in October, they people them need their land and we ain’t got nowhere to go.”
Hinds was a victim of a fire many years ago in the same community and had to rebuild her life. It was around that time that she applied for a land but was unsuccessful in acquiring one that would be close to her children’s school.
“I don’t want over the river, and I does go market and buy things to sell and my children them gotta go to school, I don’t need over the river, they got Farm Road and all these things if they could give me a piece of land on Farm Road I would be grateful for that,” she said; adding that “the other day I went in at Ministry of Housing and they tell we bout $1.5M, they ain’t got no low income land? And from $1.5M up, me ain’t got $1.5M.”
Their stories are similar and Omela Charles,a mother of five has been living in the community for over 35 years. She said, “It tough especially when you’re a single parent with no one to help you. You gotta work and do other side hustle…….well I do lil security work and sell lil food too on the side and try and make things better”.
She also explained that several years ago she acquired a land in Tucshen Village East Bank Essequibo, however, “first when they start with the self-help, they said that they are doing community work and nothing didn’t do on my land till somebody go and build on it and when I went into Housing the girl said that they gotta to repossess my land.”
Charles said all she needs is a better home for her children.
“Sometimes you try saving but like you ain’tsaving enough for what them at Housing telling you is the price for it,” she related.
Another mother of five, Althea Accra shared a similar story with me.
“Life for me in the Ghetto…it is hard cause I’m a single parent and it hard to maintain five children but I still try to work and do other things to keep my head above water but life in the Ghetto it is hard,” the woman lamented, adding that “I would like to make my future better by starting with a home for my children them and help them to get out here and give them the best education I can give them because I is mother and father in the life right now…..thirty-three years now I live here and its time now I need to get out but there is nothing else I can do.”
Unemployment & Discrimination
Unemployment in Tiger Bay seems to be the order of the day, according to a father of one, Kurt Dickson, who has spent all his life in the ‘Bay’.
“Life in the ghetto just tough, because depending where you might go place for work, depending upon how far you from, they ain’t no vacancy for you so we all just trying for betterment, we don’t know how it could come by but we just trying.”
The unemployed youth said getting a job is hard, especially for a ‘Tiger Youth’ because of the stigma and discrimination that is attached to the community. This has forced him to look for daily odd jobs.
“How I making out only God could tell as the day comes that is how you gotta face it, so this is a day by day thing…..i don’t know what the future look like for me but I am trying to get a future if there is one for me out there but me ain’t see no hopes for me in the future because things are getting more hard every day. Politicians them just fighting over them own thing and them ain’t looking to set things right for the people them so that the people could earn and get a better life, that’s what we all fighting for,” he said.
When asked about the perception that most youths from the ‘ghetto’ are involved in crime and other unhealthy activities, Dickson said, “Crime coming from the ghetto is something you’re gonna always see because of crisis, people ain’t getting work and the youths them need things, them might see fancy things that them need, put aside fancy things, them gotta eat and many days you deh and it hard, sometimes a meal hardly coming by, sometime you might wake up in the morning you ain’t know how you really eating a meal, sometime it might be till afternoon……crime from the ghetto have to happen ain’t no way they can see themselves out, only by going and commit crime because there ain’t no job for them.”
He explained that even though it is tough, he chose a different path.
“Because remember now everybody get them life to live and I just choose to live me life by don’t going out there and do crime and just do what I have to do and just depend on the Father to bring a better day for me, that is just me but not everybody gon think the same as me.”
As I was leaving the ‘Bay’ quite a few young men pleaded with me to help them secure a job and so that they can work and earn to help support their families. These same young men also called on the Politicians to focus more on the grass root people and the ‘bread and butter’ issues, instead of the constant fighting.
The residents said they are cognizant that their living condition is unhealthy but they remain helpless to some extent. Clogged drains that breathe mosquitos are a major cause for concern since a lot of the residents are infected with the Chikunguna virus, according to them.
Some mothers even brought their babies for me to see the rash they developed due to the virus.
The residents who are squatting also complained that they receive absolutely no help from Government except ‘kites” around Easter time.
“Right now drains in Tiger Bay are full and Chikunguna is so much in the area,” one woman lamented.
They are now pleading with the relevant authorities to visit the community and assist them.
The late President Janet Jagan had established an organizing committee that was tasked with helping the community and its people in a positive way. However,most of the members from the committee have died, except TresslineRossan.
Rossan lived in Tiger Bay most of her life but moved out a couple of years ago.
She explained that most of the residents are afraid to join the committee and participate because they view it as a political move.
She also spoke of the efforts of ‘A’ Division Commander, Clifton Hicken in assisting the community by donating materials, which were used to rehabilitate the step to the West End Community Center.
Rossan believes that some of the people of Tiger Bay have a serious “dependency syndrome”; however, she admitted that the struggle is real for all residents but some have become too dependent.
“When I born and grow around here it was totally different, it was better; it has really degraded over the years, devalued over the years,” she claimed.
She is also contending that most of the residents were given land under the late President Janet Jagan; however, some families moved, while others were unable to do so and remain in the community.
“I think if the Government can really help these people to build their house and move that would be the better thing, because the area was earmarked for commercial purposes which I understand, because Tiger Bay is a small community surrounded by so many businesses and their lifestyle doesn’t suite the environment for that.”
She also spoke of how unhealthy the environment is and cited the waste that comes out of a popular nearby restaurant in this regard. Anyone who would like to assist the residents and community can call Rossan on telephone 664 – 3425.
Some parents also called on Government to assist students who excelled academically; this they believe will serve as a motivation. One parent noted that there are a number of children attendingsome of the top schools in the City including, St Stanislaus, St Roses’ and some even acquired scholarships.
Tiger Bay houses 136 families including 180 school aged children. Most of the homes in that community are called ‘shacks’ and accommodates in many cases eight to twelve persons.
Self-employment is the most popular job and poverty is the order of the day.