Shawn Doul and his common-law wife, Marisa Alijohn inside of their home.

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No job, no money, in dire need of proper shelter and facing a daily shortage of food, every other day survival becomes a grim reality for a family of seven from La Romaine.

The grave situation has led to their five children dropping out of school. Shawn Doul and his common-law wife, Marisa Alijohn feel helpless to keep their children’s dreams alive. The hopes and dreams of the children to become a designer, baker, painter, mechanic and building technician decrease daily. The children–aged 17, 16, 15, 13, and 11–whose aspiration is to pursue their dreams to remove themselves from a life of struggle and the grips of poverty are not seeing any glimmer of hope right now.

Doul, 41, and Alijohn, 39, said their wish was to give their children a better home and to get them back into the education system.

Three of the children should have been in secondary school preparing for CXC and CAPE, while the other two should have sat the SEA examination last week.

But without jobs, the parents are at a dead end. The fight to get regular work has intensified since the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Doul said before COVID he found employment as a construction worker and labourer with CEPEP, but now with both areas to earn an income closed, he “hustles” odd jobs around the neighbourhood, sometimes earning just enough to buy a meal to last a day.

Doul said many days they eat dhal and dumplings or go without food. On those dark days with no food, they sometimes face prolonged gas pain and headaches. He said he plants seim, bodi, tomato and eggplant to get by with food.

When the pandemic struck, Doul said, they could not afford a smartphone or a computer for the children to continue school.

“I want better for them, some days we have nothing to eat or we eat once for the day. My daughter and son keep saying they want to be a designer and he wants to learn mechanics, but all I could do is shake my head. I have no money to pay for them to go and learn. I glad if they can learn a trade, so it can help them eventually in life,” Doul said.

Their discomfort is further exacerbated as they live in a ramshackled house, an unstable wooden and galvanize structure made from reject materials. While Doul said he knew it was not a good environment, it is the best they can do right now. The shack is overgrown by bushes and has gaping holes in the roof, partition and floors and is open to the elements and crawling insects. The structure, which balances on rubble and dirt close to a major watercourse, can easily be washed away or get flooded out.

One of the challenges the family faces with more people now at home due to the pandemic is frequent squabbles among villagers, and their children being fed a diet of profanity daily.

“I would like a proper home for my family. I am sorry they have to live like this, but this is what I have and what I know,” he said in an emotional tone.

Doul said on two occasions he made applications for housing–once under the Patrick Manning administration and then again through the People’s Partnership’s Land for the Landless but to no avail.

He said all he knew was how to struggle to survive; a way of life he learned from his parents for more than 25 years.

Doul and his family moved to Thompson Gardens, Ste Madeleine, Penal, and Debe before his mother passed away last year.

Running out of locations to squat, Doul explained that eight months ago he was forced to relocate from lands allegedly owned by a company along the South Trunk Road, near Gulf City Mall. But he said a relative offered him a space to squat meters away from the busy highway.

Doul said the councillor for the Les Effort/La Romaine area Rishi Balramsingh helps them with hampers although they do not live in his constituency. Councillor Roland Hall for Palmiste/Hermitage after running a background check on the family said they needed immediate help. He said their dwelling place falls under the Penal/Debe Regional Corporation although it is in the San Fernando West constituency. Hall said recently he distributed hampers but that was only so much he can do.

Hall said, “They are a deserving case so I think you all highlighting their needs should bring some needed assistance. They are genuine and assistance in any form of housing or food card would be of great help to them.”