Lessons from Laventille

Anna Maria Mora -
Anna Maria Mora -


“Whether you are brown, lonely, golden or

black, young Man, construct the day of companions, and

raise the world your fathers did not make.

There are no worlds to conquer, but worlds

to recreate.”

Call for Builders and Breakers – Sir Derek Walcott

On my way home one afternoon last week, I was listening to a radio talk show host, who was giving feedback on statements being made that nothing had been done or is being done for Laventille. He questioned: “How people could say so?”

He went on to itemise the things that have been done for Laventille. These “facts” were itemised. Per capita, Laventille has more government and denominational schools than anywhere in this country; he went on to the Spree Simon Industrial School; the spanking new Olympic-size swimming pool; Laventille Nights that were held and the various vocational programmes that are being run in the area. He continued to question: “How dey could say dat?”

I had to take off the radio because I had to be mindful of the fact that I was driving. There was a traffic jam with stop-and-go traffic and I definitely had to be in the moment or else I might have run in to the back of the car that was in front of me.

I keep repeating that it is not possible to change behaviour by building fancy buildings and telling people to behave themselves, or to run yuh run. If we insist on building buildings we must also insist on building character.

I learned in my teacher-training about the importance of bringing students to a state of readiness before attempting to teach them anything. Learning readiness has as its foundation culture (the way of life of the student); personal values, physical and emotional health; and of course past experiences. Walcott writes in his poem Laventille:

…We climbed where lank electric

lines and tension cables linked its raw brick

hovels like a complex feud,

where the inheritors of the middle passage stewed,

five to a room, still clamped below their hatch,

breeding like felonies,

whose lives revolve round prison, graveyards, church.

Below bent breadfruit trees

In the flat, coloured city, class

escalated into structures still,

merchant, middlemen, magistrate, knight. To go downhill

from here was to ascend.

The Middle passage never guessed its end.

This is the height of poverty

For the desperate and the black;

The Castaway and Other Poems (1965)

That’s 55 years between 1965 and 2020. How yuh feel? There is also a statement that is attributed to Buddha Siddhartha Gautama and the Theophists, which speaks to this state of readiness: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

Preparation for learning is so important if we are to engage students in the classroom. For the teacher to make a difference in the eyes of a student, there is so much about that student which must be understood before real teaching and learning begins.

For any helping person who wants to make a difference in a child’s life, the first step is to build rapport. Get to know your student, or the person you want to help. This takes time. If the teacher’s focus is completing the curriculum by a certain time, then psycho-social support systems must be put in place to assist teachers. This is not their role. These support systems must be accessible. There must be no six-month wait for service.

…we dare a laugh,

Ritual, desperate words,

born like these children from habitual wombs,

from lives fixed in the unalterable groove

of grinding poverty. I stand out on a balcony

and watch the sun pave its flat, golden path

Something inside is laid wide like a wound,

some open passage that has cleft the brain,

some deep amnesiac blow. We left

somewhere a life we never found.

This entire poem Laventille by Walcott can be the foundation of an entire school curriculum: History, literature, sociology, English language, art, and discussions on “Where do we go from here?”

Geography, poetry, creative writing and so much more. Walcott asks:

Which of us cares to walk

even if God wished

those retching waters where our souls were fished

for this new world?

Anna Maria Mora is a counselling psychologist


"Lessons from Laventille"

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