With Covid-19 being the global equaliser, residents of Sangre Grande (Spanish for Big Blood) including those at Sangre Chiquito (Little Blood), have not escaped hard times. People lost their jobs, were furloughed, or had to be rotated at workplaces.
When Express Business visited the area last Friday, residents unabashedly shared survival stories of having to find daily meals for themselves and their families. Several residents said they are accustomed to “struggle” and “hustle” but Covid-19 has sorely tested their survival skills.
Poverty remains a bugbear. Consensus among residents was they have no money, no source of income and no savings to stabilise them during the Covid-19 pandemic. The majority of people interviewed said not only were they unaware of the many grants being offered by Government, but they also didn’t know how or where to access the much-needed grants.
Businesses have either suffered losses or have had to fold up or send staff home.
A model for humanitarianism
Sangre Grande is however a model for humanitarianism. People from all walks of life and social strata have clung to the old adage, “Be Your Brother’s Keeper.” Devotees at temples and church congregations have emptied their pockets, and cupboards to assist their fellowmen as they wrestle with paralysing socio-economic conditions.
As T&T prepares for its first Divali celebration in this “new normal”, at a popular puja shop on Ramoutar Street, manager Duane Mapp said he has dropped his prices for the Festival of Lights to accommodate customers.
Casting his eye at a row of deyas, Mapp said: “More families will be staying at home for Divali. There is no Divali Nagar, and so there will be no congregating. It’s good since the focus is on family.
“Sales have been good. I also sold hand sanitisers and face masks. But I know some business people in Sangre Grande are saying sales are not good. I had a friend with a clothing store, and he had to close down. He had to give some clothes to offset the rent.
“Rent is a big problem. It starts at about $3,500 to $6,000 to $23,000. Some people just can’t afford it. They have to send home staff.”
Moving to poverty-stricken families, Mapp said, the Sant Nagar Hindu Temple (Ojoe Road) reached out to needy people in communities including Vega De Oropouche, Fishing Pond, Manzanilla, Coalmine and Bois Bande.
“Poverty continues to rear its ugly head. We prepared some hampers, at around $350 each. They contained staples like rice, flour and oil. Nobody turned us away. People desperately needed food. The Youth Arm is continuing to reach out,” Mapp said.
A ghost town
At R&R Tyre Shop on the Eastern Main Road, manager Rajesh Rampersad said: “I can’t complain but it could have been better. Since March we closed down. We took our little chances here and there. For a week, sales dropped from $1,000 to $500. Sales in the mini mart are slow. More foodstuff selling.”
Rampersad said he was shocked during a visit to Trincity Mall, a favourite haunt, where he noticed “every three stores had closed down”. “I fled. The place looked like a ghost town. I had to pinch myself,” he said.
Peoples’ cries for food, and, lack or little money, have not escaped the Rampersads. He said his uncle, Pundit Deodath Rampersad, and members of the Vishanath Hindu temple dipped into his pockets, and along with the State’s assistance distributed hampers.
He said: “People wanted food. They had to live. They came to the temple. We could not turn them back. We will keep helping where we can.”
Sangre Grande resident Jha Kisto, who was at the tyre shop, said he was spending about $4,600 on tyres.
Asked about peoples’ living standards, Kisto said: “People had to find ways to live. Generally business has slowed down. People who have been working were laid off. People who desperately want work, can’t work because of Covid-19. Big businesses will survive. Small businesses will perish or downsize. My cousin tried a food business in Princes Town, and had to shut down after a few months.”
Lost $20,000 in five months
At Cunapo Road, Selvon Ramcharan, 64, manages and paints at his auto repair shop. Asked how he was coping during Covid-19, Ramcharan, who also dabbled successfully in the insurance business, said: “Thank God, I have a skill so I can earn a living. I learned this trade about 13 years ago. I lost about $20,000 in about five months. I applied for the Salary Relief Grant, but the bank moved. So I have to check back.”
Empathising with cash-strapped neighbours, he added: “I attend a temple but I gave my hamper (about $250) to a family in Caigual Village, Vega De Oropouche. They needed help more than I. Sangre Grande has good soil for crops like peppers, tomatoes and bodi but people are hardly planting the land like before.”
At Good Hope Trace, Cunapo, Ramcharan said several families are heavily impacted and desperately need help.
Resident Simon Peterson, 34, said he has no work at CEPEP, and was now forced to “hustle” for about $200 cutting grass. He is relieved though, that he has his own home, and is not renting.
Another resident, Ingrid Ramdhan, who operates a makeshift detergent business has devoted her days to caring for her 29-year-old daughter Crystal, who is bed-ridden and suffers from cerebral palsy and a chronic lung infection.
Patting her child’s crown of black hair, she said: “We communicate well. She knows we have visitors. I let her know I love her, and I am here for her. If she’s crying too much, I would ask my pastor to pray for her.
Doctors have ceased house visits, Ramdhan said. “Crystal gets a disability grant (about $1,450.) We get a food card. So we don’t qualify for any more grants. So I am just selling toilet paper and black disinfectant at about (3 for $50) and (1 for $20).”
Sales slow in heartland
At Sangre Grande’s commercial district, Biche resident Nari Dass, who sells electronics said: “Sales are slow. But on Fridays and Saturdays, it might peak. Headsets fetch $50 to $65. Chargers for $120.”
At the popular Miguel Moses store, manager Sharda Charles said: “ Sales are very slow. It’s not the same for Divali and Christmas this year. People not walking the streets. The most they might spend would be like three (curtain) panels at $100.”
Random checks with people revealed a trail of sad stories. In fact, people sought out the Express Business team to share their tales of poverty, desperation, and, unemployment. Mothers said they were hurting because they could not feed their children.
Juliet Adelphe, a mother of three from Fishing Pond said she was working as a security guard for a former MP, and got about $2,000. But when she lost her job, she had to depend upon the Seventh Day Adventist church for hampers.
“I did not even know they had grants. I don’t know how to get it,” she said.
Her friend, Manzanilla resident Tricia Frederick, a geriatric nurse, said: “Play Whe and Fast Cash saved the day. Thank the Lord for Play Whe. I am playing 14 (Money).”
The Express Business team furnished both women with numbers and email addresses for the Ministry of Social Development.
Chiming in, Toco resident Richard Beharry, a tiler, said he was now unemployed, and depends upon his partner for a handout of about $200.
Tamana taxi driver David Joseph said he did not see the sense in driving his vehicle at half capacity.
No $$ to farm
Illegal vending, poor conditions plague Sangre Grande market
At the Sangre Grande market, a chorus of voices complained vehemently about the twin evils of illegal vending, and dilapidated conditions including non functioning toilets and no water, poor drainage, cockroaches and mosquitoes. They support Finance Minister Colm Imbert’s $500 million incentive for agriculture but felt they, too, should be able to share in the disbursements.
On the way forward, Jattan, who farms cucumbers in Coalmine, said: “The State should subsidise the farmers. We want to share in the $500 million for agriculture. Open up the other stalls. Let people sell to feed their families. Help us with equipment.”
Vendor Dominic “Wise Man” Homer said: “ It’s a good idea. But help the small man.
“Not just big farmers. Not just mega farms. Give us access to the banks. We can grow our businesses. We can help our families.”
Valencia farmers Rodney “Sankey” Ramlal and Wendell Prescott echoed a similar sentiment about “equity”.
Ramlal said: “Give us deeds. Give us documents to take to the banks. Ninety-nine per cent of the farmers are farming on lands for which they have no deeds.”