Janelle De Souza
Before the pandemic in March 2020, “the working poor” were teetering on the sting of poverty.
But due to the lockdowns in the course of the pandemic, those people, and even others who were on more stable footing, slid into poverty, says Avonelle Hector Joseph, founding father of the NGO Is There Not a Cause? (ITNAC).
She said despite tens of millions doled out in government grants, many were “hungry, homeless, frustrated and desperate.”
The subject was not something people desired to speak about, she said, because it could lead the population to demand that leaders act responsibly.
“Imagine if we could face the fact of our issues as an alternative of pointing fingers. Since it shouldn’t be a PNM or UNC problem, it’s a TT problem. So I envision a day when the extent of maturity of our flesh pressers could increase quite a bit and they’d have the opportunity to see how we will work together to handle what affects so many areas in our country.”
She said given the statements about bicycles, coal pots, ham and sacrifice, the country’s leaders were “totally out of touch with reality.” She stressed that she was not saying they didn’t need to help or didn’t care, but obviously didn’t understand the pain of the people.
She believes people cannot fix what they don’t understand.
Hector Joseph said many individuals didn’t have money left after they paid rent. She has seen many cases of individuals being evicted, and that number increased dramatically because the pandemic. Many lost their businesses and were now attempting to rebuild what they worked so hard to create, or had their weekly work hours cut.
These circumstances pushed some to live of their vehicles and she or he often gets calls from the police, Children’s Authority and various agencies asking for accommodation for them.
She added that plenty of individuals weren’t aware of, or didn’t know learn how to access government grants. And once they did, the experience was generally humiliating and frustrating, she said. They needed someone to walk them through the method, help them gather the vital documents, tell them what they needed to do, and help them fill out the forms.
Those services will likely be one aspect of ITNAC’s upcoming City Outreach Centre when it opens in East Port of Spain.
“We want all hands on deck – civil society, the private sector and the federal government – in order that we will engage the communities and give you tangible ways to construct those communities.”
ITNAC has been very busy through the years and things are about to get busier.
In October, it opened a migrant learning space in St James which educates slightly below 100 migrant children from babies to 14-year-olds.
In early December, it should open its third transition house in Chaguanas, for individuals who have lost their jobs, whose homes burned down, were affected by flooding, and other situations where they lost their homes and wish a brief place to remain.
It is usually constructing a secure house for girls and kids, which was the rationale for the fundraising concert on November 16 on the Central Bank Auditorium.
Hector Joseph said ITNAC intended to have more fundraisers, because each the physical structure and the logistics of running such a project needed loads of work and money.
As well as, it has several other continuous outreach projects, including providing housing, food, clothing, therapy and more for people all around the country who suffered from flooding.
There may be also the love caravan, which fits into communities to assist initiate small businesses, provide motivational speakers, business development courses and more – all focused on the needs of the people.
“We’re giving the baskets of garments and food, but we’re also lifting the morale of the people. We realised people need to do stuff. They only need someone at their side to assist them.
“So we’re taking a look at our various partners to see what services and skill sets they must boost the skill set of the people we work with. We use a ground-up approach to construct communities and make a difference one life at a time.”
ITNAC also has a base in Haiti, where it has had projects that support micro-enterprise start-ups, and supply a mobile medical clinics because it first went into the country in 2002. Hector Joseph said the group was not physically within the country for the time being due to the unrest, but work continued through its partners, who send progress reports.
“After we go right into a country, we try to construct strong bonds. For instance, when the earthquake took place in Haiti in 2010, we already had a network, so it was only a matter of mobilising on the bottom.”
ITNAC can be constructing a transition house in Haiti for individuals who outgrow the youngsters’s homes and orphanages it supports. She said work on the transition house had paused, not only due to the violence, but because a number of the children’s homes it supports had no food to feed their residents.
“We needed to make that call due to our unique situation and the way we raise and get funds.
“It was heartbreaking. We had to choose from urgent and vital. We have now money within the bank for the constructing, but we needed to take out some from it to feed people and trust God that when it’s time to construct, He’ll provide.”
That is along with assistance in disaster relief, community development and poverty alleviation it has given through projects in Kenya, the Bahamas, Peru, Venezuela, and plenty of other countries through the years.
“We’re a working NGO. We work across the clock. On any given day, any person needs food, any person needs clothes, any person’s running from domestic violence, any person’s house gets burnt down, or there’s a disaster somewhere on the earth. Needs are at all times there. So the work goes on.”
The NGO was founded in 2002 by Hector Joseph whose mother, Margaret Hector, was the member for Diego Martin West under the National Alliance for Reconstruction between 1986 and 1991. She was the one non-People’s National Movement person to carry that seat.
Hector was a Spiritual Baptist who did loads of charitable work which influenced her daughter. She passed away in 2003.
“She fleshed out what a Jesus lover was. She was selfless – the politician who went into politics poor and got here out poor,” said Hector Joseph.
In 2009, the Carenage native gave up her job of 17 years as a marketing representative and radio announcer to be a full-time volunteer with ITNAC.
She said loads of people in TT need to be a component of something greater than themselves, a part of the answer. ITNAC was the vehicle for people to do this and make an impact. And it was not abstract, she said, as they often see how they affect people’s lives, either immediately or years later.
She gave the instance of a construction company, Awesome Construction, which is working on constructing the secure house for ITNAC. She said the contractor, who didn’t need to be named, began the job with $2,000 to purchase materials. Each time the NGO got more cash, it was given to the contractor, who would work on one other portion of the project.
“He’s probably the most amazing being I even have ever seen in my life. Whatever we get (funds) we call him one time.
“He’s not getting paid as yet. He’ll receives a commission on the back end. Who does that?
“There are superb, kind-hearted people in TT. Unfortunately, they wander away within the bad press. But they put the greater good ahead of themselves.”
ITNAC also hopes for an additional fruitful partnership. It’s applying for a one-off $10,000 grant from the federal government and would love to partner with the state in the longer term.
“I’ve met with Minister (Donna) Cox. She’s very aware of what we’re doing and she or he has expressed her willingness to partner with us, because our goals align with that of the Ministry of Social Development, in addition to the developmental goals of the UN and other agencies.”