By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Staff Reporter
TWO radio personalities have called on the government, and the wider public, to take a greater involvement in fostering dialogue between the Haitian and Bahamian communities.
In the aftermath of the New Year’s Eve blaze that left hundreds homeless in an Abaco shanty town, radio personality Louby Georges yesterday urged policy makers and private citizens not to ignore the largest minority group in the country.
Saying that some 60 per cent of fire victims were children, Mr Georges teamed up with another radio personality, Tony Grant Jr, to organise relief aid for fire victims displaced by the fire in the Pigeon Pea settlement.
Both men said they were overwhelmed by the level of need in the community.
Mr Georges said: “The trip was a very eye-opening experience. As far as the needs go, school supplies are number one right now. Sixty per cent of the persons homeless are kids, and school supplies are needed badly, uniforms, food, nonperishable items, clothing, blankets.
“We thought we had tons of clothing and items to give away. It took us all night to fold and put stuff away, in less than an hour’s time everything was gone.”
Mr Grant Jr said: “I learned many things about the two major shanty towns in Marsh Harbour that I never knew before. There is a clear racial divide within Central Abaco that everybody ignores, but in order for things to be cleaned up, it will take the white and black communities of that island to come together to put in a valiant team effort.
“We were able to get a lot of clothing for those people, but they are in immediate need of affordable meals, and in the near future, they will need to have shelter.”
The cause of the blaze that claimed the life of a mother and her son in the Marsh Harbour shanty town is still unknown.
The fire took nearly six hours to extinguish, according to sources, who said firefighters had to fight the fire from the outside because of the proximity of the homes in Pigeon Pea.
According to North Abaco MP Renardo Curry, persons will not be allowed to rebuild on the site, and talks have begun with landowners. When asked what the government’s long term plan was for the more than 200 fire victims now homeless, officials did not have an answer.
Mr Grant Jr said: “In addressing the issue of the thriving shanty towns, we have to be sure that we are truthful with ourselves. There are owners of the lands these villages are built on, there are slumlords that take advantage of the people in some of these villages, and there is a lot of money made from these shanty towns.”
He added: “The government has identified the risks before that come along with shanty towns, but the people who are responsible continue to operate undisturbed, that can’t continue to happen.”
Mr Georges pointed to education as the key to bridging the divide between Haitians and Bahamians in the country, adding that persons residing in squalid living conditions did not have the proper information to improve their status.
Mr Georges said: “It’s going to be hard man, because the problem is so complex. We as Bahamians, we say we want persons to integrate or assimilate but we’re not making that easy for them. The discrimination is still real and we need to incorporate the human elements in everything.”
He said: “I think the government needs to work very closely with the Haitian embassy, the churches, organisations, to start an educational campaign and inform these people. We have to get down to basics, it’s all about education. Some of these people are ignorant to what the possibilities are for them, not because they’re stupid or dumb but because they don’t have the information.”
The activists urged the country not to turn a blind eye to the immense need in Abaco, and to a wider extent the ongoing discrimination against persons of Haitian descent in the country.
Mr Georges said: “I would have done it for any community, when I post about this notice I never mention the word Haitian because Abaco needs you. There were Bahamians affected. I grew up a Haitian in the Bahamas, my mom, dad, brother, sister are still Haitian. I have a passion for the community but also for my country. We cannot continue to go along and ignore that these people are here. These people are contributing to the positive growth of the country, and we can’t ignore that. We acknowledge them when it’s convenient around election time, but when they need us, we ignore them.”
He said: “This is my way of helping my country, to inform and educate the Haitian community and provide a platform so that the Bahamian and Haitian communities can communicate. Communication can only be beneficial. We’re hurting ourselves. If I didn’t have good principles and values instilled in me as a child I probably would still hold a lot of animosity against Bahamians because of how I was treated growing up.”
He added: “We created this, and we need to fix it. The only way to fix it is to strengthen our relationships.”
Persons interested in sending financial donations can contact the Christian Council’s Abaco branch, Mr Georges said.