Pigeon Island Squatting Area residents desperately in need of assistance

Dear Editor,

I am writing this letter as a concerned citizen, hoping that it will help to highlight the plight that the residents of Pigeon Island Squatting Area are facing. And more importantly, I am hoping that this will attract some assistance from the government and or the non-governmental organizations (NGOs). This help should not only be to improve the living conditions of the community but to empower the residents with the necessary skills that they need to independently provide for themselves and their families. I stumbled across this community a year ago when I was looking for domestic help.

Pigeon Island Squatting Area is a dam, a continuation of Pigeon Island Scheme which is connected to Pigeon Island Pump Road on the East Coast of Demerara. Next to the dam lies a trench which separates the Squatting Area from the Atlantic Ocean. This area is mainly accessible from Pigeon Island Pump Road through a bridge.

Whenever there is heavy rainfall, as has been happening over the last several months, the trench swells leaving the bridge, which is the main access point in and out of the area, submerged or at best covered with water and debris. This makes it dangerous and often impossible for the children in this area to use. The adults, however, generally manoeuvre their way across the bridge but not without much difficulty.

Adding to the woes of this community of thirty to thirty-five families (living in zinc and wooden shacks with open pit latrines in front of the shacks), is the fact that there is no potable water, electricity, very poor sanitation and no job opportunities. Because of these year-round conditions, the residents are open to contracting diseases such as tuberculosis, cholera and others. When the rains are very heavy, this area is totally unfit for habitation. The area has several outdoor latrines and the floods would create a sea of disease emanating from the waste.

Access to clean drinking water is non-existent and becomes a daily challenge. Some residents have to buy potable water costing $120 per bucket for their basic consumption. Others who cannot afford to buy water would generally use the contaminated trench water; which they get by typing a rope onto the handles of a bucket and pulling it up over the rickety bridge, with no supporting rails.

Each shack has about two to four children, with ages ranging from new born babies to thirteen year olds. Some of the women are employed as domestic cleaners while some of the men are employed as security guards or labourers outside the area. Domestic disputes and visits to the police station are rampant here where steady work and a better way of life are difficult to secure.

The oldest resident has been living in the area for over thirty years while the youngest has been there for less than a year.

Over the years there have been several visitors from the housing authority and other organizations promising help, however to date nothing has come to fruition.   The residents of this squatting area therefore feel abandoned and hopeless.

Over the past year I have had the opportunity to work with a family of five in the area, providing basic food items, part-time employment for the women and tutoring for the children. The oldest woman in this family brings in an income by cooking for single men in the area. This is supplemented by monthly food hampers from the church nearby. However, despite our combined efforts this family still finds surviving a daily struggle.

Though the needs of the residents in this area are similar to those of other distressed areas in Guyana, something needs to be done to help alleviate the plight that this community is facing.   I am therefore appealing to the government as well as NGOs to pay attention to the needs of this community and to provide whatever assistance they can to these families.

I hope that immediate action will be taken to assist the residents, especially the children, in Pigeon Island Squatting Area so they can live in a more humane, sanitary and habitable conditions. They are not looking for handouts, but for the tools and/or conditions to be enhanced so that they too may have a sustainable productive community.

Yours faithfully,
S Budhram

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