Sugar estates closure tragedy… “Sometimes my children wake up hungry and all I can do is cry” – mother of 4

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The Collymore’s Family

Imagine how you would feel if your child or a random child comes to you and asks for something to eat and you cannot provide that, just imagine. Your stomach would begin churning and that overwhelming feeling of sadness would encompass you, right? Well, that is exactly what Eon Collymore and his wife Melissa Sinclair go through almost every day of the week.

Collymore, 35, and his 25-year-old wife are parents to four very young children and were wounded by the fall of the sugar industry. Three of the seven days of the week the couple’s children; ages one, three, five and eight-year-old, would go to bed with very little or nothing to eat. They would wake during the night and ask their mother for something to eat but would eventually have to resort to drinking a cup of water and return to bed.

The duo was employed at the Skeldon Sugar Estate but were handed the dreaded redundancy letters in December 2017.

They pondered their next move in what they described as a dead economy and are still pondering their next move some 10 months later. Collymore was employed at the estate as a cane harvester for 16 years, while Sinclair worked in the fertiliser gang for a few years.

Now the family goes days without food and live in a house which is halfway completed after the dreams of building their own home were shattered mid-construction. Collymore took a small loan to start construction of their home and shortly after, his service at the estate was severed.

So far, he has received half of his severance package and that would have gone directly to the bank to pay for the loan. Construction on the house is now stalled as the father works odd daily jobs to provide food on the table – a task, he says, he is failing at miserably.

Two of the four window openings to the 10 by 22-foot wooden structure have old zinc sheets nailed to seal them. The other two window spaces have curtains on them with no added protection. Inside the building is a mattress and a kerosene stove. Some of the boards on the floor have missing parts and a sheet of plywood covers them. The situation is so dire that the man cannot afford to construct a door at the back of the building.

He explained that initially he would purchase a few pieces of wood when he received his wages from the estate and would construct piece by piece his Lot 65 Number 77 Housing Scheme, Corentyne home but now he cannot even do that since he would work a maximum of four days per week.

The single door leading to the building at the end of a ladder is still to be constructed. Collymore cannot raise the money to build a door for his house. Food is the number one priority for his family.

“I bought some cheap wood from the sawmill just to start this house,” Collymore told <<<INews>>>.

He said it is not only recently that life has become harder in the Corentyne, but rather stated that it started about a decade ago, slowly intensifying with the closing of the estates, thus crippling the Berbice economy. The man, who says he feels defeated, said he would leave his family – vulnerable to elements and bandits – for days and go to various villages seeking employment but would often return home with little or nothing at all.

“I does work all over. Sometimes I does be at the sawmill and sometimes by the koker with a man and help him to bring out wallaba pickets. Sometimes I gone and fetch up the coast but right now the paddy work get stiff because they bring in grain carts. Since the estate close down, sometimes you catch day work, sometimes you ain’t catch nothing,” the dejected man said.

His wife said she used to operate a small mobile confectionery business but since the estate’s closure, that business became even tougher resulting in her shutting up shop. Now she sits at home wondering when her dreams of owning a proper home would come through.

Because of their dire situation, Sinclair would quite often beg her pensioner mother for food for the children. “Sometimes we eat salt and rice. That is how we survive. Sometimes my children wake up in the night hungry and all I can do is cry. Right now, I need a lot of help. I am punishing a lot, because it isn’t easy to raise four children without a job,” she said was tears settled in the eyes.

The children remain in school after being away from the first week and then went with slippers on their feet. However, neighbours have assisted the children with school shoes.

Additionally, when the Government decided that they should downsize the sugar industry and ignore the advice of the multi million-dollar Commission of Inquiry into the state of the sector, they did not put a plan in place to cater for those who were rendered jobless.

Those, particularly, feeling the brunt of the closure are the men and women in Berbice. Because of the limited economic opportunities in the country, the majority of the workers are yet to find jobs – 10 months later.

Avinash Singh, 31; and his 33-year-old brother are two such persons, who are still battling desperately to find employment so that they can send their children to school, take care of their families and provide assistance to their 66-year-old father, who has limited mobility. They both lost their jobs at the Skeldon Estate in December of 2017 when they were made redundant.

But like a story out of a gloomy book, the brothers are now dependent on their father to take care of himself as well as their families. The family survives on his $19,500 per month pension.

The brothers live with their father at Number 76 Village, Corentyne, in a small house. The family shares the living room and verandah to sleep. Two chairs decorate the living room, which also acts as the dining room at mealtime. The kitchen has one table on which the stove and all the other kitchen utensils rest. The house is kept clean, but it is the television which the children are forced to view in place of lunch and sometimes also for dinner that keeps them going.

Avinash’s day entails cooking, cleaning and taking care of the four children – ages four, six, seven and eight years old. He said his elder brother would have attempted joining the fishing industry but because of the high incidence of pirate attacks, he left.

Both he and his brother are separated from their wives.

“Without a job and without money and have a family to look after, certain times you does get frustrated and you could do anything to get money because you don’t want to wake up in the night and your kids tell you that they are hungry and you don’t have anything to give them,” he said.

“It is hard to send the kids at school because of no job and don’t have money and when the kids go to school, the teachers always get something that they want money… My father does get pension and he does buy the month grocery fo we from he pension money. My father supporting we right now with he pension because we don’t have a job right now,” Avinash said. (Andrew Carmichael)

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