A mother and daughter were crushed to death when their dilapidated house collapsed on January 5 at Bonasika, in the interior of Guyana near the Essequibo River. When I saw the pix of the rickety house, I was moved me to tears.
I saw some pictures posted by Dr Vishnu Bandhu of URP distributing holiday hampers to families with houses not much different from the collapsed house. These dwellings are reminiscent of the Indian indentureship era (1838 to 1920) when Indians were placed in uninhabitable structures. They restructured these (looked like stables) to make them livable quarters. The pictures reveal that families in many parts of Guyana still live in unsafe squalid conditions and in extreme poverty. Government should conduct a housing survey and provide assistance to the very poor to improve habitable conditions. The head of the household, Mr. Sookdeo, was working on his farm in the backdam. Did he ever receive government assistance on food production? The Ministry of Agriculture should have a survey done to assess the needs of poor farmers and help them grow food. As pictures reveal and in conversations I had with poor people, things have not changed that much since colonial times for the downtrodden. The poor is still neglected in what is supposed to be a socialist county.
It is difficult to understand how observers, passersby, political figures, and government staff did not notice that the victims Chandra/Sookdeo and the rest of the family needed help? Clearly, this humble family lived in unimagined decrepit conditions. How could government workers have missed the family in their house to house engagement with the public on several occasions? Staff went out to gather information on distributing various grants (Covid stimulus), hampers to the poor, flood grants, school uniform and we care grants, and other types of social welfare grants. Staff supposedly went house to house. When the grants were given put, was this family missed? No staff took notice that a house was in very bad condition? Did the staff inform superiors of what they saw or that a house with kids was missed or that children in that location were not registered for school? No one came back to check on the family! Are staff so uncaring and lacking in empathy? In the US, it is mandatory for all government employees (including teachers) to report what can be considered as “child neglect” or unsafe housing conditions. Government employees can be brought up on criminal charges and lose their jobs for failing to file reports or inform superiors. The staff at responsible Ministries, past and present, failed the Chandra/Sookdeo family.
One silver lining is I learn that Minister Indar Deodat and other government officials (regional and local NDC) have reached out to the family as well as other families that recently experienced tragedies and have provided much needed assistance during their bereavement. I applaud the Minister for his work reaching out to neglected communities and those at the bottom that tend to neglect. Community folks told me he often spent his personal money to help the downtrodden. Other Ministers should emulate his compassion and style! What we also need is pro-active work to prevent these kinds of tragedies.
The Guyana Times reported that the Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha Essequibo Praant on Saturday donated some items to two families at Bonasika Island, in the Essequibo River.
The organisation, in collaboration with the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security and some businesses have assisted the families. I applaud their contributions. More needs to be done for this family!
The government should tap into the natural resource fund to address extreme poverty like housing and job creation rather than for massive white elephant projects. The poor should be the priority for the NRF. The government should immediately made available a house for the Sookdeo family.