THIRTY-TWO years of prayers were finally answered on Friday morning, when Angela Swamber received the keys to her brand-new home in Enterprise, Chaguanas.
Swamber, 61, who is visually impaired, said it was a dream come true that she and her son, Aaron, 30, a cerebral palsy patient, can finally rest in some comfort.
The small concrete two-bedroom home on Boodram Trace was a collaborative effort between Habitat for Humanity, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), which is focused on providing adequate shelter to those in need through “partnership housing,” and COOSAL’s group of companies.
Swamber said her life was not easy, having to live with a disability, being ridiculed and then having to raise a disabled child on her own. She told Newsday she had been happy about her pregnancy at the age of 32, but when she told her partner, he left and did not return.
Swamber said, “I struggled and worked at the Blind Welfare Association for almost 18 years.
"Taking care of Aaron was not easy. I did not even know he was ill until very late.
“There were moments I thought this was hell, but prayer pulled me through. Things were so bad that even Aaron questioned why I had him. But he is my only comfort and joy in this world."
Swamber said after many years she met her current husband, but he too has been taken away. She explained they have been married for 11 years, but his daughter from a previous relationship put him in a home for the elderly.
“We do not know where he is. He does not have any major illness or anything, and they just took him from us.
But she said, "I do not miss him, though. And I really do not want him to come back.”
Swamber misses his help around the house, but said, “I am at peace now with my son. We finally have a safe place to live and somewhere to call our own. I am his limbs and he is my eyes.”
Swamber said assistance from several people gave her hope to live. Aaron had corrective surgery to his leg, thanks to the Immortelle Children’s Centre, and food and clothing and even friendship came their way.
But the family is not out of the woods yet. Swamber explained that the caregiver provided by the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services was taken away from them.
She said, “A few weeks ago we got a call and they told us that they will have to take away the caregiver and would not be able to provide a replacement. We were told we needed to pay $2,500 a month if we wanted a caregiver. I need help, but cannot afford that. My finances are unable to allow us to cover our expenses. So what now? We live on disability grants and the little I get from my national insurance contributions."
Her biggest fear, though was her son's well-being.
"What will happen to him or who will take care of him when I cannot?”
Swamber said she was hoping the ministry would reconsider their case.
Despite the gloom that hangs over their heads, the Swamber family believed that the prayers will be answered and hoped a happy and fruitful life.
Before Habitat for Humanity intervened, the Swambers lived in a dilapidated two-bedroom house, with termite-ridden rafters and gaping holes in the roof. Inside, the house was damp and musty; in front of the lone door, a drain full of stagnant water became a murky pool whenever it rained.
Swamber said, “There were days and nights when it rained and our house was flooded because the roof had so many holes, it just didn’t make sense to say it was a shelter.”
Habitat Humanity national director Jennifer Massiah said the Swambers' case was lobbied by COOSAL’s executive chairman Sieunarine Coosal, who also chairs Habitat Humanity’s capital campaign cabinet.
She explained that the NGO would provide a basic housing structure and labour, but the Swambers got added assistance from COOSAL’s for infrastructural development and amenities.
Massiah said, “The project was mainly sponsored by Mr Coosal, and the finishing were done by his company.
“This is not a typical Habitat for Humanity project, as we do not do the fancy finishes. We do a basic, simple home: no ceiling, no painting, no furnishings.
"But Mr Coosal has done all of that, including the landscaping and so on.”
She called for more collaboration and advocacy to provide shelters for vulnerable people, especially amid the covid19 pandemic.
“I just want to say to the corporate world that this is where you get an opportunity to exercise your corporate social responsibility,
“Here is where we can team up with members of the community, the private sector and the public sector to make shelter a basic human right, especially for the vulnerable in our communities.”
Coosal said he just wanted to help those in need.
The home was completed at a cost of nearly $275,000, was fully furnished and included basic amenities such as electricity and water.
He said, “I've been involved with Habitat for Humanity for many years, culminating in my current position, leading the capital campaign cabinet. My company has supported various social projects in this area for some time, and I was drawn to help Angela and Aaron when I heard of their difficult living situation. I am very glad to be able to help them with a finished house, complete with modifications to accommodate their needs.
“The living conditions and the physical needs of this family warranted extra assistance. I could not believe they were living under those conditions.
"Habitat is not into just building a house: we do much more. We assist with flood relief, food distribution and so much more.
Coosal said homes were usually built on land owned by the families, but Habitat had encountered challenges in providing homes for those without.
He said, “Land acquisition is one of our biggest problems. We could help a lot more people, but we have to go the Commissioner of State Lands to get land tenure and while there is support, the process is tedious. We do not want to build something for someone and then they do not have the title or security. That is what holds us back a lot from doing the things we want to do.”
Anyone wishing to help the Swambers further can can contact Angela Swamber at 278-8289.