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For Christians and Hindus who flocked to the Siparia Boys’ Roman Catholic School yesterday, the La Divina Pastora or Sipari Ke Mai observances were about giving thanks to their spiritual mother. But for hundreds of poverty-stricken people who crammed into the school’s courtyard, it was a silver lining in a grey cloud, as they were treated to food, clothing and cash, just enough to ease their difficult lives for a least for a few days
Many first-time devotees coming to pray before the statue of the Virgin Mary, or in the case of the Hindus, mother Kali, were overwhelmed at babies sleeping on the ground, pregnant mothers pleading for help and homeless people mobbing alms givers bearing food and dollar bills.
Laventille couple Veena Maraj and Chris Mungal, and two of their children, arrived at the thrash-laden school shortly after 9 pm Thursday, and stayed until last night. With both of them unemployed, the family slept on a sheet under a tent in the courtyard, even as rain fell, constantly on the lookout for anyone willing to give something. “My husband can’t get a work because he doesn’t have an ID card and I have nobody to take care of my children,” Maraj said.
“I come here to help mind my children, it is four children I have. Whatever we make, if it is $500 at least, it could help us buy pampers, milk and other things for our children.” Mungal said the four children are between six years to five months old. He said he has tried several times to get his ID card, but encounters problems because his parents never gave him a first name on his birth paper.
Another mother, 19-year-old Morvant resident Shatara Alexander, was also hoping to get help for her children, ages six, four and two years old. She said the festival had brought welcomed money, snacks and food for the children because she is unemployed and cannot afford to buy them. Alexander said it was her second time in Siparia, noting she was invited by her friend, Rebecca, who had been attending the event since the age of six.
Barrackpore resident Ronnie Dass, swamped as he gave out single dollars yesterday, said it was the first time he ever experienced so many destitute people together in one place. “It was very sad to see the amount of homeless and underprivileged people there are in Trinidad. There are a lot of business people who should look into this and at least come and give back,” Dass said. “My mom would usually come every year and she encouraged me to come see the homeless and at least give something back to the homeless.
“Obviously if you have, you need to give back too. Jesus sacrificed himself for everyone so the least we can do is give back. You can’t have and don’t share with the homeless.” Alicia Baig, who was brought to the festival for the first time by her boyfriend Shivan Ragoonanan, described it as an overwhelming experience.
Baig said: “It was something I have never experienced before and it gave me an overwhelming feeling. The experience that people will come from all over the country to experience this and those people outside, my heart went out to them.” A Hindu devotee, Ragoonanan explained, “It was a life-long tradition. Since I was small I have been doing this with my family. This is the first time my girlfriend and I came and this is a meaningful thing to me and my family.”