Friday, December 16, 2011


Driving to work this morning I was indulging in my usual 'surfing' of the radio talk shows when I stopped on one that caught my ear. The hosts were talking about the problem that is Laventille and how nothing seems to have worked there for the last fifty or so years ... if not longer. Everything seems to have been tried and everything seems to have failed.

Like most Trinidadians I am acutely aware of the human disaster zone that is Laventille. I am also very aware of all that has been done (and not done) and the fact that so long as we don't fix it that we are all simply waiting for the moment when it explodes ... again!

So? What to do? I am of the view that there is no short term fix. This is a problem that took decades to come to where it is today and that short of dropping a nuclear bomb on the place (and, no! I am certainly not advocating that!) `the problem will not go away with a social program here ( a la "Colour Me Orange") or a basketball court there (a la PNM). And although we profess to be familiar with Einstein's edict concerning the definition of insanity, successive regimes continue to do effectively the same thing (though calling it by different names) while expecting a different result. And, of course, the different result never comes!

When I was a young lawyer I was told by an old (and very wise) Queen's Counsel that if I ever wanted to understand a problem I had to go back to basics. That sage advice has helped me enormously as I have journeyed through the adventures that have made up my life. So, applying that advice to Laventille, what is the basic problem there? Answer: extreme ignorance fuelled by excrutiating poverty. I know that a lot of people are going to take offence at the label of extreme ignorance, but it is unfortunately true. I admit that I have no figures to back me up on this, but I will bet dollars to doughnuts that the level of illiteracy in that unfortunate place is intolerably high. I will bet that most of the gang members (if not all) are functionally illiterate. And I will bet that most (if not all) of the pregnant teenage girls can't read or write properly (if at all) either! So, how do you ... we ... fix the social problem that is Laventille? And while I will admit that the ability to read and write may not be everything in this world it does pave the way for a child's mind to be opened. No society in the whole history of mankind has ever succeeded with an illiterate and ignorant population.

The answer has to be by education. The only way out of poverty and to raise a society's standards is by educating the population. In this regard I must say that I believe that our education system is an abysmal failure ... that it is failing our society, not only in Laventille, but in the country as a whole. But that is grist for another post. Let's just concentrate on Laventille for the moment. The schools that cater to that depressed area need to be revamped so that the kids that are churned out at the end are capable, responsible and right thinking. Now, that's a tall order! Those kids already have the terrible hurdles of badly educated (if at all) mothers, terrible and totally unacceptable male role models, and politicians of all stripes (but unfortunately mostly in the PNM) who seek not to help them but to use them for narrow political and sectarian purposes.

But it can be done. It will take time ... more than five years, which is why it probably has never been done. Nobody in power now will get the credit for something that will take about twenty years to fix. But don't fix it now (and 'now' means now!) and it will only get worse. Don't the Chinese have a saying about a journey of a thousand miles beginning with the first step?


  1. Nice piece, but truly a tall order ... and in excess of 5 years! Who indeed will try?

  2. They have fixed worse slums than Laventille in places like Peru and Ecuador.