Dear Trini who feels that gang members should just shoot one another,
The late 1990s, when I was a young mother, I see toddlers lying day and night in a guard booth in a car park near the place where I work, seemingly abandoned. I bring them home one evening, bathe, fed and put them to bed with my children.
They are unregistered, non-citizens. A Rotary Club sorts them out and put them into care.
The warning signs are in our face if we look but, what to do, no time. Our eyes are on our beat of cricket, Carnival, Christmas. It's in the hungry eyes of the prostitutes near Curepe Junction holding children with big bellies, evident malnutrition; in the faces of the weary women walking home to walls with bullet holes, concrete floors and latrines and galvanised roofs dripping water in the rain; in the slit throats of middle-class women.
Villages in Toco: the neglect is chronic; dirt roads, slow transport, broken schools empty of teachers, dry taps, substandard housing, no work, no jobs. Desolation so stark that a social worker tells me in despair about the children who abandoned school to go into the forest to play with the private parts of donkeys.
Early 2000: Everything you don't want to think of is happening in high-risk areas, from Caroni to the East-West corridor. Disappeared fathers, abandoned women bartering sex, having babies from various men for survival; stepfathers battering children with home-made whips, making them kneel on graters, slitting their pet animals' throats; incest; women shouting, men hitting, boys pushing drugs, turf leaders handing over guns, marking territory.
The gatekeepers of state funding—URP, CEPEP—up their game, grab cash, seize state neglected turf, recruit the children of neglect, gradually exchange home-made guns for snipers.
2012 A UNDP report shouts out 'Gangs are the new law in urban T&T'.
2015 and residents of areas where people are afraid to go tell foreign researcher Janina Pawels "The Government hands them [gangs] a million-dollar project, and they use the money to buy expensive guns that they use against us!"
2020: January. A spray of bullets from machine guns slaughters innocent people. It is deliberate a show of firepower from the gang army. It's telling us who the boss is. There are an estimated 200-250 gangs, each with 100 members, uncaring if they die killing.
February 2000: This week Dominican Sister Arlene Greenidge, manager of the St Dominic's Children's Home reveals to the Rotary Club of Port-of-Spain West that St Dominic's, responding to the desperate need from high-risk areas is now a campus, housing not children in dorms but teens traumatised by living amidst rising criminal activity. The State provides the home with a subvention. Once an orphanage now the home looks after 13-18-year-old children all with living parents traumatised by living amidst rising criminal activity.
They come from broken homes, absent fathers, are raised by grandmothers while their mothers work. They are hyper-vigilant, easily startled, used to guns, disrespectful, destructive, have no moral compass, suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, are always wary or hurt, in self-preservation mode even after danger of abuse or guns or violence has passed, have no supervision, move from one place to another and have no spaces where they feel safe. They act out. Their mothers, unable to cope themselves, take them to court and hand them over to the State.
"Mary is a typical example. A 13-year-old mother, a single mother, a security guard with shift work and in multiple relationships voluntarily went to court. When Mary came to us, she was aggressive, and we deal with episodes where she would lose it, destroy her bedroom, break up her bed, roll on the floor, weep shout, cry, inconsolably until she was spent."
Urgent intervention is required for the home to run centres to deal with trauma resolution. The home introduces the psychological concept of care workers building a fence around traumatised children (taken from a US trauma specialist institute) while they 'slay the dragon of trauma' so they don't act out in violent ways towards themselves and the society.
President of the POS West Rotary club Frank Teelucksingh reiterates his club's commitment to saving children at risk. The club donates funds towards psychological support for the children.
Sister Arlene makes a plea to citizens to reach out, help.
"Offer time, funds, expertise, support our trauma resolution programmes. It does take a village and a country to raise our children at risk. Everyone is looking for a family. We must stop the children from finding it in gangs. This is our last chance. "
Email Sister Arlene at firstname.lastname@example.org to help or call 624-7882 to do your part.
If we leave our children empty-handed and hollow, gangs are waiting to hand them guns to fill that space.