IT’S A SIGN of the times we live in that a national award-winner like Joel Julien can end up in the circumstances he described to us this week.
Six years ago, Julien made headlines when he rescued a baby who was abandoned in a dumpster. He was awarded a Hummingbird Medal (Bronze) for gallantry. Today, he is the one who says he is in need of rescuing. Even after receiving the award, Julien, who lives in Malick, has struggled with homelessness and poverty. He has appealed for help to find a place to live.
“I don’t want any money,” he says. “All I need is food, water, electricity and a better roof over my head. I can work for all of those things once I get the chance.”
We hope members of the community will rally around him and provide the support necessary to allow him to stand on his own two feet.
Perhaps in another society, someone like Julien would not have to make this kind of appeal. In other countries with developed economies, heroes can ride the tide of celebrity, capitalising on momentum through things like book deals, media appearances, and publicity tours. Overnight sensations can earn lucrative sums from endorsements and can buttress themselves for the days when their celebrity has faded. In a small country like Trinidad and Tobago, however, things aren’t as rosy.
Julien is just one example of thousands who find themselves below the poverty line. According to the Central Statistical Office’s Continuous Sample Survey of Population, about 41.4 per cent of people in this country earn below $6,000 a month. During this Carnival season, the disparity between the haves and the have-nots tends to be even more flagrantly apparent.
Fetes are held, literally dripping with champagne and gold; ticket prices begin to touch the heavens, reaching the thousands. These fetes tend to be packed, suggesting many have the resources to indulge. Yet, it’s another world for people who can’t afford to splurge.
The upsurge in crime, the rise of the criminal gang in areas associated with lower incomes, the breakdown in social mobility – all, some would say, are a result of the failure of the marketplace to address these inequities. The charity work done by many corporations might not be enough.
Economists note the importance of limited state involvement in the market place. However, they also point to clear instances of matters that the free market cannot be relied on to supply. This is why healthcare and education are key matters for the State. So too is social support for people who, for whatever reason, have slipped through the net. Julien’s case is a reminder of the importance of not leaving people behind.