'I just pray I don't fall sick up here'

Miserable existence for residents in hillside districts above Gordon Town

BY SHARLENE HENDRICKS
Sunday Observer staff reporter
hendrickss@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, December 09, 2018

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Life has been extremely difficult for residents of three St Andrew districts — Penfield, Mount Industry, and Sugar Loaf — in hilly terrain above Gordon Town.

People, they complain, have died, and farmers have a hard time getting their crops to market all because of poor roads and decaying bridges that restrict their access to vital services, such as transportation and garbage collection.

“The other day a lady drop down in her yard and because we living where car can't reach, the woman dead in her yard,” lamented Christine Waugh, who lives in Mount Industry. “Another woman drop down at her gate and by the time them walk down the hill with her, the jerk up alone kill her. Two years ago a little girl was suffocating from asthma, and going down the hill, she died. She was just 11, just pass GSAT.”

Added Waugh: “A lady lives further up the hill with three children that cannot walk. When them sick, them have to lift them up on chair or them mek stretcher... in a civilised time like now when technology is worldwide.”

Another resident waded into the conversation. “I just pray I don't fall sick up here because I live alone here and by the time mi look help and get vehicle, mi must dead, believe me. It's at least 20 to 25 minutes to reach the square. If somebody sick up here and has to be constantly going to the hospital, it is so stressful for these men who have to be straining them back to carry people down the hill, and some of them come from way up — about two miles up.”

The residents also complained that there are holes in two of the three bridges that connect the hillside districts.

“This hole form in the bridge about three weeks ago and one night when mi lock di shop and going up, my foot went through the hole and nearly break. Is me and my brother, in the night, have to get a stone and put in and cover it with dirt. But anytime rain fall, it constantly eat out the dirt,” a shopkeeper said, pointing to the spot where a hole was covered.

Two other residents, Carlos Johnson and Curtis Williams, showed another gaping hole in the third bridge further up the hill.

“These bridges have been here for years, for centuries. If you go underneath and look you see how bad it is, and every MP (member of parliament) come around here promise us bridge and it never fulfil,” said Williams.

The men, who are also farmers, reported that the steep, rugged terrain is affecting their ability to make a living.

“When crop time come, I have to make four or five trips for the day, carrying the load on my head. I think them can maintain the road some more,” said Johnson, who plants coffee, banana and the well sought after Sugar Loaf pineapple.

Vice-president of the Mount Industry and Sugar Loaf Citizens' Association Glenford Tracey said that the road situation needs to be addressed urgently, as residents have been living with it for years.

“When people sick and need to be taken out to the hospital to seek medical attention, and even when the women have to be taken out to have baby, it's very difficult,” Tracey said.

One mother, Sherica Gregory, who lives in Mount Industry, which is about a mile and half from Gordon Town square, explained that travelling with her baby down the hill is most challenging.

“The most difficult thing is when my baby is sick; it's hard travelling down the hill. To have a young baby and there is no road, it pose a challenge. I have to walk the two miles go down and up and sometimes when I go down to the square, there is no taxi.

“If any pregnant mother about to have baby, we have to hurry up carry them down before them have baby on the road. Even on weekends when we go shopping, we have to stand down by the square to wait on someone to carry up the bags. You buy a piece of furniture, the same thing,” Gregory said.

Another mother, Sasha Brown, explained that she struggles most times with her baby in hand up and down the hill.

“It's very difficult; especially when you have your grocery to carry up or if you have the baby plus other things to carry, it's very hard. You have to stop a lot of times because it's very tiring,” Brown said.

Another resident, Tracy-Ann Powell, said she had to deliver her baby at home because it was futile to make the 20-minute journey downhill during the throes of labour pains.

“My boy, who soon six years old, is right up at my yard in the house I have him because it never make sense I come on the road, [or] else him would born pon di road,” said Powell.

One senior resident, Paulette Leverage, explained that she has got accustomed to the road condition.

“I live here from I was a child and I am 66 now, and from then till now, the road bad. If mi want anything, I have to go down there and bring it up. But mi used to it, so mi just continue go on because I still go to church every Sunday,” Leverage said.

The residents also expressed concern for children having to walk down the hill in the dark hours of the morning in order to make it to school on time.

“Sometimes when we reach a school, them close the gate on us. And no matter how we tell the teachers say we get up early, them don't care,” Waugh related.

New Day Primary and Junior High School student Chadwick Spencer explained his early-morning routine.

“I have to wake up 4:30 every morning fi reach school early. The journey from right here to school long because of the journey down the hill, then the traffic on the road and by the time mi reach school, gate lock,” the boy said.

Another major issue for the residents is that their garbage is never collected, causing some to either burn it or transport it outside of the community.

One resident, Marlene Brown, explained that although the community is peaceful, Jamaicans and tourists who often go to the scenic community complain about the garbage.

“There is no garbage facility here. I have to take my tins and bottles with me whenever I am going on the flat. I package my garbage, take a taxi and drop it off at a skip in Gordon Town. Others have to travel with pampers, pad, all these things, to throw way,” Brown said.

She also explained that not everyone travels with their garbage, and so most of it is either left inside the community and disposed of in Penfield square where it piles up, or is strewn along the Hope River which snakes through the community.

“Persons have to end up throw them garbage over the precipice — pampers, pads, all that gets thrown in the river. And even if we get a skip, nobody coming for it, so the garbage still pile up there and make the square really stink,” Brown said.

“The garbage collection needs to be addressed, just like the road. If not, cholera is going to take us up here. How we live up here is not nice, and it's such a beautiful place,” she added.

“Everybody come up here love here — tourists, everybody. But the only complaints: the road and the garbage. From we get those sort out, everything else will sort out,” she said.

President of the Citizens' Association Suzette Walters explained that efforts have been made by residents to clear the garbage.

“The citizens' association has tried to put in a collection system. We placed garbage receptacles on the road but even that was not sustainable because the cost of purchasing the bags, paying someone to carry down the garbage and then pay a vehicle to take it to Gordon Town for collection by the trucks was too expensive for us,” she said.

“We encourage citizens to reduce the amount of garbage but then, that also poses a problem. The long distance and rough terrain that citizens have to traverse on foot do not allow us to buy in bulk as we would want, ” Walters said.

She also explained that through the association's involvement in a United States Agency for International Development project, some of the garbage was collected and recycled by community volunteers.

“We try to recycle. We were involved in the project 'Operation clean sweep', a USAID COMET II project, where we collected the PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles. Gordon Town won the competition twice,” she said.

Meanwhile, Walters explained that the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) had told the association that it had looked at the area a few years ago, but the overhang of trees and the narrow space at the turning point in the road would pose a problem for even small trucks.

“I, however, invited them to remove the old cars to provide additional space in the square. I also spoke with Opal Davis from NSWMA on several occasions, the last one being at the Papine Development Area Committee meeting. We asked for assistance with garbage bags to collect the garbage; she said that we could get a few but it would be a one-off situation,” Walters said.

The Sunday Observer was still awaiting a response from NSMWA on the matter up to press time.

Meanwhile, the residents also complained about a lack of employment opportunities within the communities where there are possibilities for community tourism.

“There are over 100 people living in Mount Industry. There is not even a basic school in the community and there are so many children here. There are people like me who have all kinds of certificates and there are no jobs. Food and beverage certificate, tour guide certificate, hospitality certificate, and they are under my couch sitting on,” Gregory said.

“We have so much healing bush, the scenery is so beautiful. We have so much to offer tourists, but we don't have any of those things happening to employ us,” she argued.

“People live up here, but not by choice. I would move today, but because of monetary reasons and, you know, as a mother with children I have to set a foundation, and there is no foundation here,” Gregory said.


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