Anna-Lisa Paul and Bobie-Lee Dixon
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Family on the edge
Michael Durant-Fraser, 13, was at home when the T&T Guardian visited Brickfield, a depressed community in Chaguanas, last week. He was not at school because he has never been to school. Michael was looking after his four younger brothers, aged eight, seven, six and three. None of them have ever been to school. Home is a small structure made of galvanised sheets in a wooded squatter settlement in a trace off Kali Temple Street.
Michael’s mother, Winnifred “Ann” Durant-Fraser, 38, had gone to work with a Cepep gang in the neighbourhood and would be home soon, he said. His father, Louis, works in the freezer section at a grocery in Chaguanas. Slim and in tall boots, his mother was soon seen walking up the trace. Durant-Fraser said she has no family nearby to look after the children when she goes to work and when Michael got older he began to help out. “I was living in Morvant. I moved here in 2009 and all my family in town.”
She said she was doing an extra evening job, cleaning at Scotiabank from 4 pm to 9 pm. “I had to leave because it was very difficult to get transport to come in here.” Durant-Fraser said the children were sometimes left alone when she worked the evening job. She said she just could not afford to send the children to school and only just started the Cepep job, but will get her first pay soon. In the meantime, Durant-Fraser said she tries to teach her children at home and Michael can read and write “a little.” She is now teaching him to cook.
She also places serious emphasis on teaching them manners, evident in their behaviour. And she takes them to the Ever Increasing Glory church in a neighbour’s house on Thursday evenings, she said. It was only recently that Durant-Fraser went through the process of getting the children’s birth certificates. “I have to go and collect papers for three of them.” About a year ago, a social worker from the Couva Social Services Centre intervened but, to date, nothing has changed.
“She said she will try to get Michael in a school like Servol when he turns 16, because that is the entry age. But I want him to get into a trade school or something before. “She said she will get three of the other children into a primary school in September, because this term already start.” Durant-Fraser said people offer assistance. “Ian Alleyne built a house for us, but it fall down. Around Christmas time, people come and give us foodstuff.”