The last several months have been pregnant with incidents highlighting the plight of the vulnerable. Poor people, women, children, differently-abled and the elderly are among our most vulnerable. Every time something ugly happens there is this electric jolt that awakens our seemingly dormant sensibilities, triggering a largely emotional response to problems that have confronted us for some time and for which there is yet any adequate comprehensive response.
While I acknowledge that vulnerability (to borrow from the late Herb Addo) can be characterized as inherent, induced or courted, I wish simply to recognize that there are persons who face tremendous challenges as they struggle to make it through their day! Images of battered women have been strewn across our TV screens for eons. Stories of horrific sexual assault and rape have for years littered the pages of our newspapers. Unsolved homicides seem to fade into the distant memory until the next incident. Suicides raise all kinds of speculations about what could be the root cause. Child abandonment cases are handled internally by families, neighbours and friends who are too embarrassed to report them or simply do not know where to turn for help. Injustices meted out to those with special needs or who are differently-abled are jaw dropping.
The poor increase in number, many of them spuriously mask any outward manifestation of their obvious economic challenges, perhaps in part because they are well aware that some blame the poor for their circumstances, and are scorned for not having “done well”. The working poor muster the courage to “go to work”, many serving with pride and honour, while it is evident that their pay does not provide adequate financial resources for their personal upkeep nor that of their family. But still they plod on.
The “new poor” are the recent victims of failing economic policies; people who are suddenly plunged into financial difficulty. Some have had to give up their homes; marriages/families are being fractured and some opt to flee overseas in search of a better life. The “new poor” – skilled and unskilled – have suffered similarly, with both groups facing the gloom and doom of poverty for the first time.
Disaffected youth seeking channels to vent their frustration sometimes get caught in the web of deviance and criminality. Their emotional and psychological challenges are compounded by their economic circumstances, with very few knowing where to go for “help”. Unfortunately they are labeled . . . and branded for life in some instances.
Too often, the easiest response is to attribute blame to one agency or another. The clichés that characterize the impulsive reactions have been played and replayed over time. We lament the decaying moral fabric of our society; churches are called upon to do more! There are calls for young boys to be taught to have greater respect for themselves and for females! There are those who ask the poor to exercise greater responsibility for their lives and that of their children.
The family comes under attack for not doing enough! Schools, teachers are asked to step up! And of course, there is no hesitation to blame the Government of the day! In total there is this general sentiment that the responsibility for holding our social fabric together has been outsourced to some invisible entity!
Further, there is this pot pouri of fixes that some espouse in the most abstract fashion! And there are those who are quick to mount their white horses and are very eager to pontificate on what ought to be! Others are outright dogmatic in blaming the victims. And sadly, for some, these social ills amount to nothing more than a fleeting news item!
In the midst of all this, there is an open question: who really cares about the plight of the vulnerable? But even more importantly, who will do something to bring some measure of relief to those most affected? I am obliged to stop here, and applaud the many civil society organizations which do their bit . . . albeit a drop in the bucket . . . sometimes it feels more like a drop in the ocean, given the magnitude of the problems that they are endeavoring to resolve. Notwithstanding, every little bit counts!
However, what I have found very disturbing is the deafening silence that follows, after all the sensationalism that comes with the ugly incidents, subsides. Victims are left in the wake of the “drama” to nurse emotional and psychological wounds for which they sometimes receive no intervention nor cure. Justice gets muddled in all kinds of self-serving excuses . . . except when certain individuals are personally affected. The economic woes of those trapped in abject poverty receive little more than statistical notation and discussions on poverty are subjected to all kinds of ill-founded speculations.
What is absolutely clear is that the response requires all hands on deck and that a comprehensive fix to, or reprieve from, the social and economic ills of this country demands a multifaceted approach and an amalgamated effort. This does not amount to any one agency being absolved from its duties though! But certainly there needs to be a champion to lead this process . . !
We all have a vested interest in ensuring that things do not deteriorate further. We all need to do our part. What we are required to do begins with lending our voice!
Dr. Rigobert is the MP for Micoud North and Leader of Opposition in Saint Lucia.