Olanda Speedwell, 36, did not have a positive Christmas experience this year.
Speedwell, who lives at Leon Street, Laventille, told Newsday it was “bad” because of “personal drama,” but otherwise Christmas was “normal” for her and her three daughters, 11, 12, and 14.
As a special-needs individual, she used to get a $2,000 disability assistance grant from the Public Assistance Board. Although helpful, it was not enough to cover rent, schoolbooks, uniforms and food, so she sold water.
In April, a welfare officer saw her selling water and said she was not supposed to be earning a secondary income while on disability. Soon after, the disability allowance stopped as, according to a letter from the board, her earning money did not “meet the criteria for the disability grant,” even though the water only earned her about $150 a day.
The Public Assistance Act says a person is entitled to receive disability if they are a TT citizen, have continuously lived in TT for more than three years before the claim for disability assistance, are over the age of 18, and are disabled to the point where he or she is unable to earn a livelihood and has been certified by a medical officer as being so disabled. The act also requires that for consideration of disability the individual must have a total income that does not exceed $12,000 a year.
Should a person’s application be denied or discontinued, they will be informed within 60 days of the refusal and reasons behind it. People who are denied can appeal to the minister against the decision in order to have their application reconsidered.
On Tuesday, as Speedwell sat in the living room of her two-bedroom home with her daughters bustling around her, she said, “I stopped selling water because that is why they out the money. Now that I stopped, hopefully they will start back the grant.”
But she has had no word from the board.
However, she received some calls from kind citizens who came to her home to drop off hampers of food, clothes and toiletries, and she thanked all of them for their kindness. She even got some financial help from a friend, who helped her pay off some of the money she owed to HDC, which was a big concern, as she feared she would soon get an eviction notice.
She said she still needed help with paying for schoolbooks, rent and getting cooking implements. She also hoped the HDC would consider giving her a ground-floor apartment as, having had two hernia operations, walking up the stairs to her apartment causes her pain.
Anyone interested in assisting Olanda Speedwell can contact her at 385-7932.
Persad: I want to be able to help people too
On the other hand, with the help of strangers, Christmas for Samantha Persad and her five children this year was amazing, and she said she could see a brighter future for them all.
“I know there are people out there worse off than me, especially with the flooding earlier this year, but I am so grateful to God for all the help I am getting and I wish others could get help too.
“When I catch myself in life, I want to be able to help people too.”
She was extremely grateful to all the people who called or dropped off food, toys, clothes and more. She was also able to put vinyl on her floors and paint the inside of her wooden home, making their living conditions much more comfortable.
She said one woman even dropped off groceries and surprised them with lunch on Christmas day.
Persad, 34, and four of her children live in a one-bedroom plyboard house near Ravine Sable Road, Longdenville, which she rents for $500 a month. Her oldest daughter, nine, lives with her father. Persad has water in the kitchen sink, and electricity, but no indoor toilet or shower.
Years ago, she was a domestic worker but her ex-partner insisted she stopped working outside the home. They were together for eight years and he is the father of her youngest three children. But he left her in October.
In addition, Persad had no birth certificate, and neither did her youngest children, ages one, two, four, and eight, which made it impossible for her to get government assistance or send them to school.
However, since Newsday highlighted her situation in November, she has received her birth certificate from the government. She said the next step was to get her ID card, and then go to the Ministry of Legal Affairs in Port of Spain to get her children’s birth certificates.
“The delay is really getting the money to travel to get there. When I leave, I have to take all of them with me, and one is on the autism spectrum, and it’s expensive to hire a car.”
She said both the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) and the Social Development Ministry's welfare department each called her once about getting a home and financial assistance to care for her children, but she had not heard from them since the initial call.
“I’m anxious for the help, but I’m not too sure the welfare will be enough to help with the children when they start to go to school, and pay the rent. It will be difficult. But I’m hopeful.”
Her youngest children have never attended primary school or kindergarten, but she homeschools them. She said about ten years ago she worked at a kindergarten, so she taught them what she could.
Anyone who wants to help Samantha Persad and her family can contact her at 274-2483.