When a 6.8 magnitude earthquake rocked T&T a year ago, 78-year-old Suganee Sam and her daughter Soomatee huddled together, praying that their home constructed of rusted galvanised sheets and discarded wood would not collapse on them.
It was a heart-palpitating event similar to what they suffered in 2017 when pieces of their roof blew away as Tropical Storm Bret beat down in T&T.
With the 2019 rainy season here, the Barrackpore family of five believes that their home is just one adverse weather away from being torn apart with them inside. While help has been hard to come by, a few Penal residents are hoping to gather building materials to help construct a new home for the family.
When Guardian Media visited Suganee’s home in the bushes off Rig Road yesterday, even their scrawny pet dogs were struggling to survive.
Soomatee Sam fulls water from a barrel.
They sleep under the family’s bed in a cowshed that has been transformed into a home.
As the winds blew, the galvanised sheets on the roof, beat against each other as it was only concrete blocks that held them down from ripping off.
Ignoring the noise, Suganee hobbled to an old stove that was leaking gas. In the yard, Soomatee washed dishes using a plastic pail with rainwater on a galvanised table.
As they invited us into their home, they sat on a bed in a shed, where they sleep at nights.
Thankfully, a battery-powered mosquito zapper helps to keep the bloodsuckers away.
Soomatee’s daughter Vanessa Ramsaroop, 26 and her two children, Aaron, three and Renisa, one, huddle together tightly at nights on another bed, which was packed with the family’s clothes and grocery.
Suganee Sam makes tea on her fire cracker stove.
It is in the only room in their home, which is also the kitchen. There is no flooring, apart from the vinyl covering the ground, no doors, no windows and the outhouse barely provides privacy.
When the rain falls, it’s a dash to find buckets to catch water from the leaky roof.
“My mom and I sleep in this open area here on this old bed. Mosquitoes are a problem so we use a mosquito zapper. That is all we can do. The bed inside has clothes and groceries on it and the dogs sleep below. When the rain falls, the outside gets wet and water comes in. The roof leaks and we have to put little buckets and bowls to catch water. It is really bad, but we can’t do anything,” Soomatee said. The mother and daughter remembered praying as strong winds from the storm ripped off galvanise sheets from the roof and caused their home to rock violently.
Soomatee Sam and her mother Suganee wash dishes in their yard.
“The house is old and there is nothing to save. If there is another hurricane, it is going to fall and we have nowhere else to go. When the storm passed, it was horrible and we did not know where to go. We just had to hide in a corner and pray that it stopped to get an ease because it was real breeze and heavy rainfall. I was inside here and got wet. I was thinking that if this house fell, we would have run in the road and something would have happened to us. I started to pray and said, ‘Lord, don’t let anything happen to this house’.”
Now fighting back tears, she said that for the past 30 years, the family has known nothing but hardship. At the age of two, Soomatee’s father died, leaving her mother to care for her and her siblings. Struggling to find work in her adult years, in 2005, she became disabled when surgery to remove fibroids left her with a damaged bladder.
With her disability grant and mother’s pension cheque just enough to feed the family, Soomatee struggles to afford the adult diapers she needs as a result of the botched surgery.
She is currently enrolled in a clinic at the San Fernando General Hospital where doctors advised that she may have to undergo corrective surgery. However, her home is no place for the sick.
Suganee Sam sweeps the area around the cowshed she calls home in Rig Road, Barrackpore, yesterday. The family is seeking help to build a new home.
At 78, Suganee remains a strong woman, but a broken arm years ago has left her with partial mobility. Recently when she fell ill, the little savings that Soomatee had was used for medicine.
“We need to get a new home because we have nothing. I don’t have any money and I’m not working,” she pleaded.
Volunteers are willing to build a two-bedroom house for the family and are seeking donations of lumber, plywood, wooden doors, lath wood, sinks, basins, PVC pipes and fitting, drainers, galvanize sheets, fasteners and windows.
Anyone willing to help can call 743-5453 or 778-4999