Back to culture of support

Debbie Jacob -
Debbie Jacob -

Debbie Jacob

THIRTY-FIVE years ago I decided to raise my children in Trinidad rather than the US because this felt like a happier and safer place for them to grow up. I could rely on support from friends, neighbours and colleagues, so I never felt overwhelmed as a single mother. This country felt special because we all looked out for one another.

In those days seeing strangers correct a misbehaving child – or even a parent – was not unusual. People had no problem standing up for what was right. We weren’t an ideal society, but we did seem to be an example of that proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

Now it feels like everything has flipped. Everyone got busier with their own lives and more fearful of strangers. That emotional support we once counted on vanished.

Every time the media report another case of child abuse I wonder what we could have done to prevent it. We have shifted away from community support and intervention so now we need to rely more on institutional support in places like health centres and schools. Everyone should have access to mental-health care in this country, and that can only happen if we make it more available in adequately staffed healthcare centres. That’s not an expense. It’s an investment in people and our future.

Schools also need to be a focal point for recognising and tackling social problems, from anger management to child abuse. Abused children often act out in school. It’s a defence mechanism; their way of coping and expressing themselves and their cry for help. Frustration, anger, inattentiveness, bullying, withdrawal, depression and animal abuse can all be warning signs of underlying abuse in those who abuse.

Abused children and adults who suffered abuse often don’t have the communication skills to articulate their feelings. The worse they behave, the louder the cry is for help, but when negative behaviour escalates, schools often resort to expulsion. That’s not dealing with the issue. It’s just passing it on to society at large.

We don’t want teachers working in overcrowded classrooms and straining to meet their academic goals to bear the brunt of dealing with behavioural issues. Instead, we need more social and psychological support for students in schools.

Better yet, we should come up with a prevention plan for social issues, from anger management to domestic and child abuse. Offering separate classes on communication skills, parenting and anger management for students and parents would help.

But first, we need to address the main source of stress in this country: making ends meet. The Government needs to curb its frivolous spending and find more efficient ways to use taxpayers' money instead of squeezing people with more taxes. On top of income tax and VAT, the Government now wants property tax at a time when many people in this country can’t figure out how to get through the month and put food on the table.

The Government should give tax breaks to companies and individuals that commit to working with a school or in community-based programmes like homework supervision. Give tax breaks to companies that adopt a school and offer financial support for drama, music and sports; mentoring, book clubs, entrepreneurship projects or financial aid for transportation and books. Create community service projects in all schools to help the needy.

Thirty years ago I witnessed a group of women vendors on Independence Square in Port of Spain standing up to a man who was shoving his six-year-old daughter down the sidewalk. One of the vendors said, “Don’t do that. You don’t want your daughter growing up thinking that she should accept men pushing her around.”

Other women vendors supported her. They were firm but polite. The man listened and stopped with no argument. One of the women reached out to hug the teary-eyed child. “Don’t ever do that again,” she told the father. “Look how this child feels.”

Because of these women, that child knew her dad’s behaviour was wrong. She saw that people would stand up for her. Those were important lessons we once taught everywhere – even on the streets.

Somehow, we need to return to that kind of support and a feeling of community that we once took for granted in this country. It takes all of us to make this country a happier and safer place we all can feel proud of. The Government and the business community can go a long way in recreating that culture of support we once took for granted.


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