Eking out a living on East La Penitence Dam

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—-residents say hamstrung by lack of legal papers for properties

By Svetlana Marshall

For more than 40 years, hundreds of citizens have come to know East La Penitence Dam as their home.

Despite the lack of roads and other infrastructure, the squatting community, located between East La Penitence and East Ruimveldt in the capital city – Georgetown, has seen some developments over the years – such as access to water and electricity, however, in the absence of legal documents for the land in which they occupy, many residents find it difficult to access finances to upgrade their homes.

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Successive governments have reportedly promised to regularise the squatting settlement, however, to date, it remains an aspiration for residents.

“I came here 36 years ago when I was much younger,” 64-year-old Lorraine Hollingsworth told Village Voice News during a visit to the area.

“It was mud; all here was mud,” she added while noting that her house was the fourth structure that was erected on the dam.

“The house wasn’t like this. I built it over like this,” she posited. Currently, Hollingsworth lives in a flat concrete house, however, in the past, her home was a small wooden structure. She said back then, there was no access to water or electricity.

“We used to fetch water from over the road and a man used to give us lil current with a drop cord. That is how I used to get light for my children to study but now we getting light and water,” Hollingsworth said.

Though thankful for the basic amenities, Hollingsworth said should the area be regularised, residents would benefit from better infrastructure such as roads. “We need a proper road, that is what we need, that’s all we need right now because we are getting light, we are getting water,” she posited.

But while Hollingsworth was able to rebuild a concrete home, Joy Springer, another resident, said she is awaiting regularization to expand her home. She has been living on the dam for some 28 years.

“The previous government, we full up form, we went into housing; this government we full up form, we went into housing; they came and lot us out…but we are still waiting for them to come and regularise the area,” she complained.

She complained that the lack of documents for the plot of land in which she occupies is stalling her personal development. “It affecting us because we can’t do nothing” she said while noting that the people of East La Penitence Dam is willing to pay for their land.

“If you got to pay for it, you got to pay for it, we don’t expect it free but come and do it. Other dams regularised and we still waiting,” Springer contended.

Like Hollingsworth, she said residents have access to water and electricity but are in need of legal papers for the land.

Orwyn Hollingsworth

Though a percentage of the people on the East La Penitence Dam work, the majority live on or below the poverty line. Against that background, Springer recommended that a feeding programme to be implemented in the community. She said the Government should also explore ways of creating employment opportunities for the young people of East La Penitence Dam, who may find it difficult to secure employment.

For 18-year-old Kayah Dodson, life on the East La Penitence Dam has been difficult. “It is stressful and hard but you have to try, you really don’t have anybody to help you so,” she told this newspaper.

For the past five years, Dodson, a mother of two children ages 3 and 1, has been living in a small wooden house. According to the young mother, the dam became her home after moving from foster home to foster home.

Dodson hopes one day that her life would take a turn for the better. “I would go back to school if I get assistance. A job is a must but I don’t have one right now,” she said.

When asked about her skills, Dodson said “I can fix anything” as her face lit up.

““Fixing things and cooking. I could fix anything, any electronics, ask anybody they would tell you, anything break down I does fix it,” she boasted.

Orwyn Hollingsworth, another youngster living on the dam, said he was born and raised on the squatting settlement. He said under the previous administration, he secured a grant to expand his grocery shop.

With the revenues garnered, Hollingsworth fulfilled his childhood dream of opening “…a barbershop with his brother, however, he said it was not long after that disaster struck.



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