Essays written by ten-year-old school children on the social ills caused by squatting are to influence policy and legislative changes governing this troubling issue, which affects 25 per cent of the population. Speaking at the awards ceremony held at the National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA), South campus, chairman of the Land Settlement Agency (LSA) Nisha Mathura-Allahar said the suggestions and recommendations made by the standard three pupils, who participated in the agency’s primary schools’ essay writing project awards ceremony, would not be placed on a shelf to collect dust.
She said the points of views expressed would be made into an electronic book, and would shape national policy to address poverty reduction and generally improve the quality of life. Housing Minister, Dr Roodal Moonilal, who addressed the audience said, “Over the last 25 years, squatting has become a serious problem in T&T. The LSA estimates that one in every seven families is squatting. The vast majority of squatters come from depressed areas and are exposed to all the accompanying social ills of these communities, ranging from high crime, limited opportunities for meaningful employment and deplorable living conditions.”
He said the competition was part of the LSA’s overall public awareness campaign to sensitise the public on squatting and its consequences for the environment. Moonilal said the competition, which attracted 16,000 pupils from 40 different schools in the eight educational districts, sparked more than a passing interest and had acted as a catalyst for responsive learning. Eight top pupils from each district received $500 worth of units from the Unit Trust. Zalika Bunche, of the La Brea RC School, who advocated that education was key to addressing the problem, was declared overall winner. She received a trophy and cheque for $5,000 worth of units, which Moonilal presented. Her school also received a Dell computer.
Second-place winner Srinivas Maharaj, of Tortuga Government School, was awarded $3,000 worth of units, while her school received two filing cabinets. Third-place winner Toni Marcano received $2,000 worth of units, while the University School, which he attends, received a combination printer/fax/scanner. Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Housing Reynold Cooper told the winners to use this as a stepping stone to their future. Cooper urged the other participants never to give up and to use this as a learning experience. Moonilal also told pupils while, like him, they might not remember the maths and science formulas they learned at school, he was sure they would never forget they were the first pupils to attend a function at the south NAPA, which is to be handed over to the Ministry of Arts and Multiculturalism on September 28.