Who cares about our is­land’s vul­ner­a­ble?

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT - By Dr. Gale Rigob­ert Dr. Rigob­ert is the MP for Mi­coud North and Leader of Op­po­si­tion in Saint Lu­cia.

The last sev­eral months have been preg­nant with in­ci­dents high­light­ing the plight of the vul­ner­a­ble. Poor peo­ple, women, chil­dren, dif­fer­ently-abled and the el­derly are among our most vul­ner­a­ble. Ev­ery time some­thing ugly hap­pens there is this elec­tric jolt that awak­ens our seem­ingly dor­mant sen­si­bil­i­ties, trig­ger­ing a largely emo­tional re­sponse to prob­lems that have con­fronted us for some time and for which there is yet any ad­e­quate com­pre­hen­sive re­sponse.

While I ac­knowl­edge that vul­ner­a­bil­ity (to bor­row from the late Herb Addo) can be char­ac­ter­ized as in­her­ent, in­duced or courted, I wish sim­ply to rec­og­nize that there are per­sons who face tremen­dous chal­lenges as they strug­gle to make it through their day! Images of bat­tered women have been strewn across our TV screens for eons. Sto­ries of hor­rific sex­ual as­sault and rape have for years lit­tered the pages of our news­pa­pers. Un­solved homi­cides seem to fade into the dis­tant mem­ory un­til the next in­ci­dent. Sui­cides raise all kinds of spec­u­la­tions about what could be the root cause. Child aban­don­ment cases are han­dled in­ter­nally by fam­i­lies, neigh­bours and friends who are too em­bar­rassed to re­port them or sim­ply do not know where to turn for help. In­jus­tices meted out to those with spe­cial needs or who are dif­fer­ently-abled are jaw drop­ping.

The poor in­crease in num­ber, many of them spu­ri­ously mask any out­ward man­i­fes­ta­tion of their ob­vi­ous eco­nomic chal­lenges, per­haps in part be­cause they are well aware that some blame the poor for their cir­cum­stances, and are scorned for not hav­ing “done well”. The work­ing poor muster the courage to “go to work”, many serv­ing with pride and hon­our, while it is ev­i­dent that their pay does not pro­vide ad­e­quate fi­nan­cial re­sources for their per­sonal up­keep nor that of their fam­ily. But still they plod on.

The “new poor” are the re­cent vic­tims of fail­ing eco­nomic poli­cies; peo­ple who are sud­denly plunged into fi­nan­cial dif­fi­culty. Some have had to give up their homes; mar­riages/fam­i­lies are be­ing frac­tured and some opt to flee over­seas in search of a bet­ter life. The “new poor” - skilled and un­skilled - have suf­fered sim­i­larly, with both groups fac­ing the gloom and doom of poverty for the first time.

Dis­af­fected youth seek­ing chan­nels to vent their frus­tra­tion some­times get caught in the web of de­viance and crim­i­nal­ity. Their emo­tional and psy­cho­log­i­cal chal­lenges are com­pounded by their eco­nomic cir­cum­stances, with very few know­ing where to go for “help”. Un­for­tu­nately they are la­beled . . . and branded for life in some in­stances.

Too of­ten, the eas­i­est re­sponse is to at­tribute blame to one agency or an­other. The clichés that char­ac­ter­ize the im­pul­sive re­ac­tions have been played and re­played over time. We lament the de­cay­ing moral fab­ric of our so­ci­ety; churches are called upon to do more! There are calls for young boys to be taught to have greater re­spect for them­selves and for fe­males! There are those who ask the poor to ex­er­cise greater re­spon­si­bil­ity for their lives and that of their chil­dren.

The fam­ily comes un­der attack for not do­ing enough! Schools, teach­ers are asked to step up! And of course, there is no hes­i­ta­tion to blame the Gov­ern­ment of the day! In to­tal there is this gen­eral sen­ti­ment that the re­spon­si­bil­ity for hold­ing our so­cial fab­ric to­gether has been out­sourced to some in­vis­i­ble en­tity!

Fur­ther, there is this pot pouri of fixes that some es­pouse in the most ab­stract fash­ion! And there are those who are quick to mount their white horses and are very ea­ger to pon­tif­i­cate on what ought to be! Oth­ers are out­right dog­matic in blam­ing the vic­tims. And sadly, for some, th­ese so­cial ills amount to noth­ing more than a fleet­ing news item!

In the midst of all this, there is an open ques­tion: who re­ally cares about the plight of the vul­ner­a­ble? But even more im­por­tantly, who will do some­thing to bring some mea­sure of re­lief to those most af­fected? I am obliged to stop here, and ap­plaud the many civil so­ci­ety or­ga­ni­za­tions which do their bit . . . al­beit a drop in the bucket . . . some­times it feels more like a drop in the ocean, given the mag­ni­tude of the prob­lems that they are en­deav­or­ing to re­solve. Notwith­stand­ing, ev­ery lit­tle bit counts!

How­ever, what I have found very dis­turb­ing is the deaf­en­ing si­lence that fol­lows, af­ter all the sen­sa­tion­al­ism that comes with the ugly in­ci­dents, sub­sides. Vic­tims are left in the wake of the “drama” to nurse emo­tional and psy­cho­log­i­cal wounds for which they some­times re­ceive no in­ter­ven­tion nor cure. Jus­tice gets mud­dled in all kinds of self-serv­ing ex­cuses . . . ex­cept when cer­tain in­di­vid­u­als are per­son­ally af­fected. The eco­nomic woes of those trapped in ab­ject poverty re­ceive lit­tle more than sta­tis­ti­cal no­ta­tion and dis­cus­sions on poverty are sub­jected to all kinds of ill­founded spec­u­la­tions.

What is ab­so­lutely clear is that the re­sponse re­quires all hands on deck and that a com­pre­hen­sive fix to, or re­prieve from, the so­cial and eco­nomic ills of this coun­try de­mands a mul­ti­fac­eted ap­proach and an amal­ga­mated ef­fort. This does not amount to any one agency be­ing ab­solved f rom its du­ties though! But cer­tainly there needs to be a cham­pion to lead this process ..!

We all have a vested in­ter­est in en­sur­ing that things do not de­te­ri­o­rate fur­ther. We all need to do our part. What we are re­quired to do be­gins with lend­ing our voice!

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