A sanitation worker who gave up his job to look after his blind wife and two young daughters is struggling to survive.
Ronald Batson, 38, said he thought quitting his job was the right thing to do to look after his common-law wife Lola Samlal, 32, when she lost her sight to cataracts. However the family is now facing untold hardship and abject poverty and their two daughters have been forced to drop out of school.
The identities of Batson and Samlal, who live at New Lane, Guaico, have been changed. Batson admitted that his love for Samlal made him stop working to be at her side, as she was going through the most difficult time of her life.
“I had to help…I had to be there,” he said, his voice choked with emotions.
He recalled that in August 2019, Samlal joining the eye clinic at the Sangre Grande Hospital after her vision in her left eye became blurred. Tests showed that she had a cataract but the doctors never performed surgery to have it removed.
“All they keep doing was giving Lola eye drops, running tests and sending her back home. We never got a date for surgery. That was not on the cards,” he said.
By the end of that year, Samlal’s sight became progressively worse until she lost complete vision in the eye. Batson consoled himself knowing that Samlal still had the use of her right eye and he hoped she would resume being a devoted mother to her children, but that was not to be, as a year later she began seeing “cloudy” in the other eye.
Although she sought seeking medical treatment, Samlal lost complete vision in August 2020.
“With her going blind I had to leave my sanitation work at night to come home and see about the family. By doing that my kids started staying home from school because finance was a problem,” Batson said.
The couple’s daughters, Ginger, 11, and Anushka, 13, whose identities we have withheld, have not attended classes at Guaico Presbyterian School in weeks. In March, Anushka wrote the Secondary Entrance Assessment examination despite missing several days of school in Standards Three, Four and Five. The teenager is hoping to be placed at the Swaha Hindu College in Sangre Grande.
Since school reopened for the new term last month, Ginger, who is in Standard Three, has not attended classes.
“Last term she must have attended school for only a month. The other two months she had to stay home because I could not send her the school because of my financial predicament. It’s almost three years I have been out of a job and my family’s life is falling apart. To be honest with you, the amount of time she stayed home from school, she missed a lot of days,” Batson admitted.
The girls’ school report card showed that their attendance needs to be improved.
“They are willing and everything but their attendance is very low. They showing potential and willing to do the work,” Batson told Guardian Media during a recent visit to his home.
Batson, who did not complete secondary school, said he does not want history to repeat itself.
“I want an education for my girls to come out of this type of life we are in,” he said.
Despite their struggles, the girls want to become police officers to help people in distress.
Unable to move around on her own, Samlal is assisted by her daughters who have become her eyes. The girls guide Samlal to the outhouse, incomplete bathroom and help to put on her clothes. Batson handles the cleaning, the laundry and cooking.
Samlal, who hardly spoke, admitted that their life has been challenging.
“It has been very difficult for us,” she said as she sat on her bed, quietly weeping.
The conditions under which they live are also not ideal, as they have no pipe-borne water, electricity or food supplies.
“If you look in my cupboards it is empty. We cooked the last portion of rice this morning,” Batson said.
Whenever it rains, the congested, rickety one-bedroom wooden house leaks. The family uses rainwater which is collected in a large plastic container outside.
When the girls attend school, they study at night using a candle or lamp.
Batson occasionally gets odd jobs. A few weeks ago, Sangre Grande South councillor Calvin Seecharan helped him get a ten days job.
“Finding work is really difficult. It’s not that I have not been trying. Everywhere I go people have been telling me there is no vacancy. I am willing to work to see about my family.”
Stating that his life has been collapsing around him, Batson said at times he feels he has disappointed Samlal and his children.
He admitted: “Yes, I cried. We are all human beings. We have feelings when it hurt. It hurt in the heart to know that I failed my two kids in life.”
Last Wednesday, doctors performed surgery on one of Samlal’s eyes to reverse the blindness but Batson could not say within what time frame she would be able to see again. Samlal applied twice for assistance from the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services but was turned down.
On the first occasion, she signed up for a disability grant but was advised to reapply for social welfare instead. She was still unsuccessful with that application.
Batson believes the Social Development Ministry has turned a blind eye to their plight.
“We get really frustrated. We tear up everything,” he said, referring to their documents after they failed to meet the ministry’s requirements.
Guardian Media reached out to Social Development and Family Services Minister Donna Cox who asked for a contact number for Samlal and, promised to look into her case to see how she could assist.