Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has described as “in danger of breaking our social solidarity” and “extremely disturbing” recent developments at several national emergency shelters.
Speaking on national radio the Vincentian prime minister said that a growing number of persons are being abandoned by relatives at the shelters which were activated to house volcano evacuees. Amongst these are at least 50 children of “primary school age” and teenagers according to Michelle Forbes, head of the National Emergency Management Organisation.
She said, “we have children of primary school age being left alone for quite some time. Teenagers being abandoned; people just going back home and leaving them there in the emergency shelters – they’re not even indicating to the shelter managers that they are stepping out… so you have all of these unattended children sometimes within the emergency shelters.”
Forbes, when prompted by Dr. Gonsalves about the number of affected children, also told media audiences, “it’s a couple.
“We’re able to identify them, so we have a few in different emergency shelters. Some people claim that they are going home to clean up but then you don’t see them for a couple days… and no communication with the shelter managers.”
“We have about 50, I think about 50 … yeah 50 both teenagers and young children.”
Dr. Gonsalves pressed incredulously, “50?! Gee whiz. Well you know we have to appeal to the caring instincts of our people. Yo can’t leave yo elderly folk like that.
“Be honest with the people in the shelters. Go and talk to them and say, ‘listen: my home is in such a situation I am not able to take them right now – take them back – can you help me for the moment? I will come and visit.’
“And let them come and visit on a daily basis and help to take care of their people too even though we while you have home helpers and the medical persons. And this idea of abandoning your children or at least just leaving them and don’t say anything.
“No man. No, no, no – we have to do better than this… we have to hold the social solidarity together in the family and in the society at large. Please, please, please! … I’m just appealing to persons: you know what you have to do. You know it is wrong to leave your elderly like that at the mercy of other people; even though there are people also who are helping to take care of them.
“You can’t also abandon your children. I mean come on – please! Let’s do this thing – we are a good and civilized people. Let’s do it properly, nuh?
“We have enough challenges already. All of us are together in this thing.”
It is unclear how many shelters share this experience. We are as yet unable to determine how many elders have been deserted by their kinfolk.