Letters & Opinion

The Government of St. Lucia: Hitting at the ‘Nerve Centre’ of Poverty

By Sylvestre Phillip M.B.E

THE government of St. Lucia was elected a little less than four months ago in a very popular election. The St. Lucia Labour Party came into power with the slogan: “Putting People First”. And they have begun to hit at the ‘nerve centre of poverty, where most of the St. Lucian people reside.

It is no secret that illiteracy rate in St. Lucia is extremely high with a percentage of around 40%. When I studied Community Education and Development some 40 years ago, my study reflected 40 percent illiteracy rate. As I write, the percentage is not significantly lower.

This situation has given rise to widespread poverty in our Fair Helen. Many people are unskilled and semi-skilled. And in an environment of a non-robust economy, coupled with the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are unemployed and must depend entirely on government, relatives and friends to survive.

But the government is responding favourably to their needs. Many people are benefitting from the government assistance programme. I must admit that over the last eight months, payment of the assistance allowance had been delayed creating some panic. Even the government subvention to elderly institutions had been delayed.

Indeed, things are beginning to change for the better. In a recent address by the Prime Minister, he stated very clearly, and I quote, “I would like the people receiving public assistance to be paid together with the public servants. Public servants need their salaries to pay their mortgages, they need their salaries to pay their car loans. But the poor people need the assistance for them to eat. “I can compare these remarks with the ‘Wisdom of Solomon.’ This is a Prime Minister who truly understands poverty and problems of the poor people of Fair Helen.

Similarly, I listened to the Minister of the Public Service, Home Affairs and Labour in her contribution to the House of Assembly on Tuesday when she stated: “The government did not get much in the treasury, but the little that we have will be used to put food on the table for our people and to allow them to pay their medical bills.”

The government truly understands the magnitude of the problem they are dealing with.

Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist, proposed a hierarchy of needs which is widely used in education. Five of the hierarchy of needs starting from the bottom upwards are (1) Basic needs of food, clothing and shelter; (2) job security; (3) friendship; (4) esteem and (5) self-actualization. By esteem I mean respect and admiration for a person. By self-actualization I mean the fulfilment of one’s talents and capacity to develop in the future and make a success of one’s life.

. Shelter is the second of the basic human need. And it is heart- wrenching to see the condition of the shelter or places where people call home in St. Lucia. Some really dilapidated buildings far from what is required for living.

The government has made provisions to assist those people in repairing their homes throughout the island. And the people welcome the opportunity to get their homes repaired.

Now the crime situation has become very worrisome in our country. Many people are wondering what has propelled those criminal activities. Well, we don’t have very far to go. Sociology tells us that when people’s basic human needs are not met, they will resort to crime to meet those needs.

Just a few days ago five men were held by police for breaking into Massy Stores Mega. Items of furniture and groceries (food items) have been reported stolen.

It is not my desire to make excuses for the men accused of stealing at Massy. But the reality is Christmas is approaching and many of the people are unemployed and they have a desire to meet their basic needs during a period of merry making all around the world. So, they resort to crime. In that case, stealing.

There are other areas of dire need which the government has attended to. The paying of facilities fees for parents of children attending Primary and Secondary schools in St. Lucia is commendable.

As principal of a Primary school located in a deprived area in St. Lucia, I can tell you what it means to assist parents with the payment of facilities fees. Even when the payment of facilities fee was a mere $20 for the year, at that time, more than half of the parents of children attending the school were unable to pay

The government must be commended for its crackdown or serious attack on poverty in St. Lucia. The long- term results of these actions will certainly bear fruit someday.

The next serious issue for the government would be unemployment. But it is not simply a matter of providing the jobs for our people. The acquisition of the pre-requisite skills for the job is just as important. The question is: How can we assist this large cohort of people in acquiring the skills needed for the job market? As an Adult Educator myself, I know it’s a mammoth task for Community Education and Development personnel.

The Ministry of Community Development now called Ministry of Equity, and the Ministry of Equity have their work well cut out for them.

Some three decades ago, the government in power had introduced a vigorous Literacy Programme in St. Lucia in centres throughout the country. My school at that time was used as a literacy centre. And that programme went on very well. However, the programme was discontinued. Had the programme continued, the literacy rate of our people would have been much better than it is today.

Through this medium, I would like to suggest that the government re-introduce the National Literacy programme which was once a highlight of education in St. Lucia.

I am extremely happy with the efforts of the government thus far.

Join me next Saturday in the Open School for a lesson prepared for you.

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