THIS LAND IS MY LAND

The Star (St. Lucia) - - FRONT PAGE - By Kayra Wil­liams

Ten years ago my sec­ondary school lost my tran­script. My records, along with my older brother’s, had van­ished. We at­tended the same school. Af­ter end­less cor­re­spon­dence with sec­re­taries, teach­ers and our school prin­ci­pal, who blamed the dis­ap­pear­ance on locked files, theft, and on the few months my brother and I spent at an over­seas high school, I de­cided to take the mat­ter to the ed­u­ca­tion min­istry. It had been years since we’d left school; still I held on to the hope that some au­thor­ity in Saint Lu­cia would be held ac­count­able. There was no record of our ac­com­plish­ments in sec­ondary school; no de­tail about the classes we took, when we took them, and the grades re­ceived in each class. It was as if we’d never been to the school!

Af­ter an un­der­tak­ing by the chief ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cer to look into the case, the mat­ter seemed for­got­ten, at least on the part of the min­istry. I called the of­fice of the CEO sev­eral times and, on one oc­ca­sion, his sec­re­tary in­formed me he was in of­fice but was un­able to take my call. “Keep call­ing,” she ad­vised, “he might an­swer even­tu­ally.”

The next day I for­warded the en­tire email chain to the is­land’s min­is­ter of ed­u­ca­tion, Gale Rigob­ert. She re­sponded promptly and in her email copied sev­eral peo­ple I as­sumed worked at the min­istry, with words to the ef­fect that she hoped the mat­ter would be re­solved in the com­ing days. About a week later I was sum­moned to the min­istry to re­ceive my tran­script. Alas, all I was handed were my CXC re­sults that I’d re­ceived eons be­fore. At that point I won­dered if I’d wasted my time send­ing out email cor­re­spon­dence de­tail­ing why in the first place I was seek­ing the min­istry’s in­ter­ven­tion. Didn’t any­one read my emails? Surely, the min­istry’s of­fi­cials, par­tic­u­larly the chief ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cer, had to know the dif­fer­ence be­tween sec­ondary school tran­scripts and CXC re­sults.

In any event, school tran­scripts not so far from my mind, this week I found my­self face to face with a woman I’d met years ear­lier. Her name is Mary Ray­mond. She had dropped by the STAR with her grown-up son and grand­daugh­ter to pro­vide an up­date on a sit­u­a­tion I knew had been go­ing on for years. I’d a taken a trip to her home in De­g­los, Bexon years ago to re­port on the story that re­volved around a land dis­pute that had es­ca­lated vi­o­lently. De­spite claims that she was the right­ful owner of a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of land, and hav­ing the ev­i­dence to that ef­fect, she had been at the end of a seem­ingly los­ing bat­tle against a rep­utable com­pany that now laid claim to land that, ac­cord­ing to Ray­mond, it had never paid for.

Things had taken a turn for the worse since we’d last spo­ken, and she re­ported more con­fronta­tions with other in­volved par­ties, most re­cently with peo­ple who had started vend­ing on the land she had used to sus­tain her for years.

“I have my prop­erty since my mother died in 1984,” the 60-year-old woman said, her frus­tra­tions etched into her fur­rowed brows. “No lawyer has been will­ing to give me any ad­vice to solve the prob­lem in all the time I’ve been go­ing through this. I’m giv­ing them my money, they’re tak­ing my money, I tell them right away that the com­pany has not made the pay­ment to me, and they never do any­thing about it. They’ve never paid me for that land.”

I re­called vis­it­ing the hum­ble dwellings of Mary and her fam­ily and, as we sat in the

STAR lobby, she shared that her fam­ily had yet to find peace in the mat­ter that af­fected their daily lives. Just this week she again found her­self at a lo­cal po­lice sta­tion at­tempt­ing to make a re­port on an­other life-threat­en­ing in­ci­dent; the first had in­volved her son be­ing held at gun­point. The of­fi­cer at the sta­tion had re­fused to make a re­port. He did not want to get in­volved, he told her. There was noth­ing he could do to help.

“He told us he’s not putting him­self in that,” Mary said. “This lady has been on my land sell­ing for over a year. The other day she pulled a cut­lass on my son. I went to the com­pany and they told me it’s their land, let the lady eat a bread. How can it be their land when they have not paid me?”

With their lives un­der threat, and the prop­erty own­er­ship still in ques­tion, the Ray­monds are now seek­ing as­sis­tance from Le­gal Aid. They ex­pect soon to hear more about the mat­ter. Hope­fully their un­wilt­ing per­se­ver­ance will fi­nally bear fruit.

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