The Unseen People

 

All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.  Galatians 2:10

In 1992, while attending Ontario Theological Seminary, I was honoured to receive the Watkins Roberts Memorial Fellowship in Missions and Development. As a result I had the privilege of working under the auspices of the Christian Children’s Fund of Canada and conducting a research thesis on The Development of Education in the Eastern Caribbean.

It was a once in a lifetime experience. I had the joy of meeting and working with a number of wonderful people in Antigua and Barbuda, St Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Grenada.

My mission was to identify the islanders who were most in need of relief and development assistance. One such group was the Carib Indians. The Caribs inhabited the islands before the European explorers arrived. They were originally fierce warlike people who resisted colonization well into the eighteenth century. Today there are no true Caribs left as they have mixed with people who originally hailed from Africa, Europe, India and South America. Despite this interbreeding there is still a distinct group known as the Caribs due to the fact that they display unique facial features and skin colouring that clearly reveals their heritage.

One community of Caribs live in a rural village named Sandy Bay. It’s located in the north eastern portion of St. Vincent and is bordered by the ocean on its eastern flank and by the slopes of La Soufriere volcano to the west. It’s completely off the beaten track. The only way to get to it is along a treacherous coastal road that hugs the shoreline on the windward side of the island. Which means these people are basically unseen.

The statistical office in Kingstown estimated the population in Sandy Bay to be three-thousand-three-hundred people (1990). The community represents a minority group on the island who have suffered political isolation, economic neglect and social alienation. Their living conditions leave much to be desired. At the time of my visit the region had no electricity, no telephones, and no proper health facilities. There was no residential doctor but a permanent nurse and a rudimentary clinic existed. Some people lived in reasonable accommodation but many lived in shanties constructed from boards, plastic, and galvanized iron sheeting. Overcrowding was evident and the people appeared apathetic, frustrated and bored. Some sectors of Sandy Bay had no sewerage disposal system of any kind, not even pit latrines. The children played in the excrement and garbage which lay between the homes and along the beach.

It was pitiful. But that’s not surprising. The average earnings were $37 US per month for a family with 5 to 7 children. On top of that 5 to 10% of the population were addicted to drugs that were smuggled in by boat from St. Lucia and an additional 15% had serious problems with alcoholism. As a result the people had such a low sense of self-esteem they were virtually unable to help themselves.

That’s how it is for people trapped in poverty. And that’s why I’m bringing them to your attention. For the Word of God says “that we should continue to remember the poor” Galatians 2:10. So do that now. Take time to think and pray. Consider practical ways in which you can make a difference. There is so much you can do. You can volunteer at a soup kitchen; serve in a shelter for the homeless; collect food and clothing for distribution by the Salvation Army; go on a short term missions trip to assist those in need; financially support a child through Christian Children’s Fund of Canada, World Vision, or some other Christian organization; or maybe even go to Sandy Bay and help turn things around. The important thing is that you “continue to remember the poor.”

In the words of a Caribbean poet:

“Ilan’ life ain’ no fun less ya treat errybody

Like ya brudder, ya sister, or ya frien’

Love ya neighbour, play ya part,

jes remember das de art

For when ocean fence ya in, all is kin.”

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