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Mom, children living in hunters’ camp
Water and electricity are basic necessities, but for six-year-old Calib and seven-year-old Corina Legendre, these utilities are a luxury. The children along with their mother Geeta Maharaj-Legendre, live in an abandoned hunter’s camp in the bush about four miles off McSween Trace, George Village, Tableland.
Although faced with abject poverty, they tried to smile when the T&T Guardian recently visited their home. As they crouched together on a makeshift bench, Maharaj-Legendre said her children do their schoolwork using a kerosene flambeau.
While other children play electronic games or watch television for recreation, Calib and Corina spend their spare time collecting rainwater and searching through the bush for dry firewood for their mother to cook with. Their meals are prepared on an open fire and breathing in the smoke has caused Calib to suffer fwith asthma.
A bumpy, gravel track leads to the hut, which is overrun by bush rats. The wooden structure has open air windows and rickety stairs. It is owned by an affluent family who once used it for weekend escapades. But for the Legendre family, the simple wooden hut is their sanctuary.
Maharaj-Legendre said she depends on their teachers and villagers for clothing and food. Her husband, who walked out on them five years ago, pays $1,300 in child support, and this is what Maharaj-Legendre uses to sustain her family.
Maharaj-Legendre said she wanted a better life for her two children who attend the Nipal Presbyterian School. “I don’t know how to read or write but I want to educate my children. I don’t want them to be dependent on people. My son wants to be a policeman,” she said.
Their education comes first, she says. But the lack of basic necessities at home has made it difficult for them to excel. Maharaj-Legendre explained that because of the distance to their school and the lack of funds for transport, her children must walk four miles each day to get an education.
“They get up at 5 am and by the time they reach to school for 7 am, they feel tired. They complain that their feet hurt. I would drop them, walk back home and prepare their meals and wash their clothes. Then I walk back to school to bring them home,” Maharaj-Legendre said.
After doing their homework, the two children then go to bed at 5 pm, just before nightfall. “I have to light a flambeau and at nights we can hear the rats running in the roof,” Maharaj-Legendre said. Maharaj-Legendre said the hunters’ hut is isolated and dark at nights. “At times it is scary, but we all stay close together and sleep.”
Ian Puntai of the St James Presbyterian School who alerted the T&T Guardian to the family’s plight said he was concerned for the children. He said Maharaj-Legendre would often load her dirty clothes on a trolley and walk four miles to his home. “We would help her wash. I use my van to drop her off sometimes,” Puntai said. He added that Maharaj-Legendre also stores her flour, rice and other dry goods in buckets at his home to keep them away from the rats.
The children collect water for cooking from a tank which is connected to a rainwater spout. Puntai called on good samaritans to help the family. He said his church was willing to build a proper home for Maharaj-Legendre and her children if she had a piece of land. He also called on Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal to assist the children. Anyone wanting to help the family can contact Puntai at 656-3160.
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