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  • A teacher's work in a third world country never ends. It is a tireless, voluntary sacrifice. In the days I was a child, a teacher was your mother, your father, your psychiatrist, your comfort, your babysitter.

    I made many friends of all backgrounds at Nelson Street in Port of Spain. Many hailed from Sea Lots and the Beetham, areas loathed by other communities. They live in poverty and filth because all the ocean's pollution gathers at Sea Lots and the infamous Labasse (landfill) is located directly opposite the Beetham Gardens. What an insult to call it Gardens. The two areas are known to be rife with crime and poverty; but I had school friends from there and they were no different from children of a more wealthy upbringing.

    I attended that particular primary school because my mother was a teacher there at the time. The children adored her, respected her and it was her life's promise to give them an opportunity. When no one dared to venture into the Beetham, my mother drove through with her Austin Mini. No one touched us. Actually, when the residents saw that Mini, they made sure to protect her car. No one touches a teacher for they know the hope for their children and younger siblings she comes with.

    Word spread that morning that a child was not in school because her baby brother had drowned.

    My mother drove to the neighbourhood. It was a shanty town; a mismatch of board, wood, galvanised sheets, each house built onto the other which formed uneven alley ways. We found the house and the wailing. I can't recall seeing or meeting the mother of the child but the grandmother was on the ground.

    She was in so much grief, she could not be raised from the floor.

    The little body had only just been removed and someone showed us to the back of the house where there were tall, white buckets for washing clothes and dishes. One bucket was only quarter filled and the child, just around 18 months old, had dropped his piece of bread in it. As he leaned forward to try to recover his bread, he fell in head first.

    There would be no escape. He would thrash about for a few minutes. His grandmother feeling guilt. I remember she kept saying over and over that he was out of her sight for 5 minutes. "It could not have been more than 5 minutes before I went to the back and saw him upside down in the bucket." His fate was sealed.

    My mother sat with the grieving family and offered what comfort she could.

    The Beetham still maintains its reputation of killers, bandits and illegal islanders. Man, woman and child still scavenge the landfill, sifting through the filth and competing with corbeaux for anything that may be of use. Pieces of wood, old shoes, expired food....

    The stench.

    But they are people.

    We must never forget, they are people.
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