There’s a saying that a person’s true character is often revealed in times of crisis. In the aftermath of the devastating October 2018 floods in Trinidad, public servant and mother of three, Averline Scott, showed hers.
More than 95 per cent of the once beautiful community of Ascot Gardens in Carapo had been severely affected. Most lost their possessions. Scott was one of a handful of lucky homeowners who had been spared. Surveying the impact of the ravaging floodwaters, Scott obeyed a voice in her heart. The overwhelming urge to reach out to her neighbours in need would propel her into action.
“Recognising that I had been spared brought about a heart that said: God had to keep one person strong in this community to build back, to help the people, get them back to normalcy,” Scott told the Sunday Guardian.
Her home became the community’s home where neighbours would come for hot water for a cup of tea or drop by to even take a shower. As neighbours increasingly began looking to her for support, Scott found herself praying with members of her community and offering advice.
A week later, she was again “led by God.” This time, she was instructed to hold a thanksgiving breakfast for over 150 of her neighbours, as no lives had been lost during the terrible flooding. With the help of a neighbour, Ryan Orie, and other friends the plan soon garnered a network of support, including donations from various local food companies. They were able to get a breakfast with full fare and even a bouncy castle for the children. Extra items were also donated for lunch. Worship teams from Scott’s home church, Faith Assembly International, Jesus Elam Revival Assembly and Elohim Temple Ministries from the nearby community officiated.
“Help just poured in and I believe that was God breathing on it…It was the story of the five loaves and two fishes that fed the multitude (from the gospels of the Bible),” Scott beamed.
“Neighbours who didn’t talk to each other were holding hands and giving praise. It was a beautiful thing to see my neighbours hugging each other and worshipping together.”
Scott recalled that while cheering the breakfast, she had a revelation.
“I said in my little speech: it’s easy for us to rebuild, but we have to rebuild from a place of love, from a heart of love and it was almost as if a light went on in my brain. This was the message I think God wanted all of us to hear; that communities can be rebuilt, but they must start with building an altar in their hearts, hearts of love.”
Scott followed God’s call to formally register the non-profit organisation, Heart of Love Foundation (T&T). The foundation is a “reflection” of her “servant heart,” she says. It aims to “inspire the rebuilding of communities through the act of love and kindness for humanity.” It comprises six core members, apart from Scott: Alicia Riley, whom Scott described as her backbone, Gillian Mitchell, Shelly-Ann Brown, Tricia Scipio, Ryan Orie, and Elizabeth Hamilton.
By Christmas, the members of the foundation were busy again, sourcing items like a few mattresses and distributing hampers consisting of pillows, towels, sheets, personal care items and either toaster ovens, kettles or hot plates to residents of La Compensación and Manuel Congo, nearby areas also affected by the heavy rains.
“When you go into someone’s home and you see their mattress with the dirty watermarks you can’t just go home and lie down on your king-size bed,” Scott explained.
The foundation’s next undertaking was relief efforts to fire victims in Couva in 2019. A back-to-school book drive followed, where 18 students from the community were assisted with school supplies from a local book store.
Assisted by small supermarkets and hardware stores in the Carapo area, Scott said the foundation’s most recent efforts have been to distribute hampers to the elderly within Carapo and environs in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. She was happy that it was achieved just before the stay-at-home order was implemented on March 29.
Having had its phone lines and Facebook page flooded with appeals for aid over the last two weeks from the general public, Scott said the organisation now aims to bring relief to 1,000 families as soon as possible. She is trusting in the generosity of members of the public and corporate Trinidad to fund these hampers which she prays will sustain recipients for more than two weeks.
Admitting the enormity of such a task in the current economy, Scott reflected on how she and the foundation have always managed to realise objectives, guided by a higher power.
Situated on the outskirts of Arima south of the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway, Ascot Gardens is a middle-income community of around 132 homes. The Manuel Congo River runs from Greenvale Park, La Horquetta, into La Compensación and to the back of Ascot Gardens, and feeds into the Caroni River. Scott had lived there for some 12 years, when tragedy struck in October 2018.
“It was somewhere between 12 (am) and 1 that I started to hear some commotion on the street. I thought: Oh my God, it must be bandits. When I looked outside my street was impassable,” recalled Scott who shares her home with her bed-ridden mother, 73 and one of her sons, aged 25.
Scott quickly dressed and found a gathering of neighbours who were all trying to ascertain the source of the water. “Afterwards we recognised that the water really came down from Greenvale and because Caroni (River) was so filled, it began to back up in the community.”
That night her son was not at home, so Scott and her mother found themselves more vulnerable.
“I’m not easily panicked, but I still felt a bit of concern,” Scott recalled.
In the 15 minutes that it took Scott and a few neighbours to place some sandbags at the edge of her yard, the water had risen into her driveway.
“That is when I said to myself, this thing could go south very easily and if it were just me, I would have stayed at home and rallied through, but because I had my mom, I started to panic at that point.”
Because of the horror that followed, most of the community was evacuated, Scott revealed.
“I think because we are not a government development we were not highlighted. But we were hit severely. My mother and I had to be taken out of our home by the Fire Services because my neighbours couldn’t lift her on the wheelchair through the water.”
Scott witnessed water levels four feet high which rapidly covered the bonnet and wing mirrors of her son’s car which was parked in front of her house.
“While waiting for the Fire Services to rescue my mother and me, I saw my neighbours coming up the street with children on their backs and garbage bags on their shoulders and I asked myself: this is Trinidad? This is not my community. Children were screaming because they were in high water in the road on their parents’ backs.”
Scott and her mother were taken by the officers to a friend’s home in Malabar, but Scott could not sit still. Dressed in coveralls and rubber boots, she immediately returned to Ascot, with her female friend in tow.
On her return at 4:30 am, they could not access the house. At sunrise, Scott said she attempted to go to her house for a second time.
To her surprise, Scott’s furniture and appliances had remained intact. The damage was limited to a water pump in her backyard. Her backyard itself had been inundated. The brand new vehicle she had purchased two months before which had been parked in her driveway sat virtually untouched by the raging waters.
“When I was leaving (during evacuation), I had said: God, you just cover this house…and I left. When I saw pictures and videos of the front of my house and the back of my house (sent by neighbours) I knew it was God who had protected my property,” she laughed.
“You have young married couples who would have taken their last to purchase a home and would have lost everything. People tend to think you’re living in a gated community so you have money, but people don’t know how you live day to day. There are people who would have been able to bounce back; swipe their credit card and refurbish their whole house, but I saw neighbours trying to wash mud off their mattresses and put them to dry.”
Scott, who works at the Ministry of Public Utilities, which is also responsible the for National Maintenance Training and Security Company (MTS) and the Trinidad and Tobago Solid Waste Management Company (SWMCOL), was able to obtain the help of the incumbent minister, Robert Le Hunte to assist those affected in the area. The Community-Based Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme (CEPEP) also gave support.
“Literally, we went from house to house and flushed people’s houses out. We had sewers backing up. There are a lot of elderly people living in this community who couldn’t manage to clean. People were just giving me their keys and saying 'Avi, please just go and see what’s going on inside',” Scott said.
HELPING TO REBUILD COMMUNITIES
Scott has approached other initiatives of the foundation with similar tenacity. When she was informed by a friend of a terrible fire at Friendship Road, Couva, she put together some iceboxes and groceries left over from the Christmas drive, hopped into her vehicle and set off for the area with little knowledge of where she was going.
“My son, I call him ‘my ride-or-die kid’, was so upset he wanted to know where I was going…I wasn’t sure where I was going. He made sure my GPS was on.
“When I got there I found men bareback, families sleeping in cars and people trying to help each other clear the rubble away.”
Surprised by Scott’s offerings of building material, food hampers and clothing, the villagers kept asking whether she had family in the area who had been affected.
“They were so happy to get iceboxes. I said look at that; exactly what I took is exactly what these people valued most. They said 'Darkie, you real bless us here'.
“I stood with grown, rough-looking men—seven of them—holding hands, and you know what they said afterwards? ‘You know he don’t talk with him and that one had a fight with him.’ And that was my heart’s prayer for them; that they would rebuild their community from a heart of love.”
While her foundation has undertaken several projects to aid in bringing short-term relief to families affected by disaster, Scott hopes for more long-term planning to help society prepare for life after COVID-19.
“The Government has really risen to the occasion in managing the present situation. They have had to make tough decisions to the benefit of us all and we have seen the results thus far.
“The provision of all these social grants and hampers are great initiatives to assist persons at a specific time, but how do we get the society to see that life as we knew it has changed? This is not going to be back to work as normal. That’s where my heart is now, to move past the short-term distribution of 1,000 hampers. It’s really about going back to ask God: How do I help people prepare for what’s coming post COVID-19?”
To assist the foundation you can log on to Heart of love on Facebook