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According to UN statistics there are approximately 1.3 billion people living on less than US$1 per day and everyday approximately 25,000 people die of hunger or hunger related causes – that is 1 person every 3½ hours. In 1984 the EU defined poverty as the situation of people whose ‘resources (material, social and cultural) are so limited as to exclude them from the minimum acceptable way of life in the countries in which they live.’

Poverty respects no one – it affects humans across age, race and gender and possesses the uncanny characteristic of perpetuating itself in successive generations. The poor are voiceless; they live in marginal conditions without access to what we loftily consider to be the basic necessities of life. Often they are unseen and unheard. Those who exist within its grasp are subject to hunger, malnutrition, homelessness, social discrimination, inadequate housing, lack of or limited education and an increased risk of disease due to lack of healthcare. Their reality is starkly different from that which most of us dare to conceive. We often exist beside them never seeing them unconsciously perpetuating the scourge of poverty.

No one seems able to provide a definitive answer regarding the origins of poverty. However, it doesn’t appear to be purely coincidental and one wonders whether there are invisible hands orchestrating this resident evil. The world has come to an agreement that there should be concentrated efforts directed at eradicating this phenomenon and while most agree there are some sceptics. They insist that poverty eradication is not achievable while others are of the view that to set goals for poverty eradication is to fight a losing battle. However the idea that the poor will always be with us has been carefully inculcated in the psyche of successive generations and today we are victims of that warped mindset. However, if we continue to believe in and accept poverty we will never actively engage in its eradication. Change your mindset!

Poverty Eradication

Trillions of dollars are spent on waging war, millions spent on campaigning for political office, while those who are elected to serve the people continue to ‘misappropriate funds’. A large volume of food is dumped each day while millions go to sleep at night without being the recipient of that which the privileged seem so quick to dispose of. All of this takes place while we attempt to achieve sustainable human development. Is it that our generation is unaware of the issues or is it that we do not care to acknowledge them?

Poverty eradication is essential in the pursuit of sustainable human development and so, in recognition of this, the international community, in 2000, made a collective commitment to work toward poverty eradication by adopting and working towards The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The deadline for achieving these goals is 2015.

The MDGs promote poverty eradication, education, gender equality, maternal health and aim at combating HIV/ AIDS and other diseases. Environmental sustainability and the development of global partnership for development are also promoted.

Poverty is a complex phenomenon and so designs to eradicate it must take a holistic approach. People must be empowered through education, which is an indispensable tool such a battle. Education, the gateway to greatness which incidentally is rapidly becoming an article of trade, is also an invaluable key to wealth creation.


Along with millions around the world, UNA-UWI celebrated International Day for the Eradication of Poverty/ World Food Day on October 17. The group launched a food drive which was well responded to by the student population on campus. The Trinidad and Tobago Student’s Association on Cave Hill campus supported UNA-UWI’s food and clothes drive by donating the food and also clothes they received from their respective charity drives. The food items collected were donated to the HIV Food bank and the Salvation Army. On Friday Oct 26 the group made a presentation to Mr. Alan O’Neil a resident of St. Thomas.

Representatives of UNA-UWI presentation to the HIV food bank Representatives of UNA-UWI presentation to the HIV food bank

The Story of Alan O’Neil

At age 50 the average male is looking towards the glorious destination called retirement. There is the security of a pension and the opportunity to do all that they never had the time to do while they were caught in the web intricately woven by a capitalist society. Not so for Alan O’Neil. He lives in deplorable conditions. Being a stranger to the community one would never assume that the partially collapsed and rotted structure is the dwelling place of a human being.

However, having realized that this was not someone’s sick idea of a joke a closer look served to shock you into the harsh realities of life. There is no flooring, one side of the house is covered by tarpaulin while the zinc roof seems about to collapse at any moment. There is no evidence of electricity or running water. There is no lamp, and in this ‘modern’ day, no toilet facilities. There is a noticeable absence of cooking facilities and as any human would, Mr. O’Neil sometimes cooks on the earth in front of his home.

A view of Mr. O’Neil’s home. Notice the cooking area in the foreground.

What could have led to this? Mr. O’Neil recounts the days when he worked on a neighbouring estate. Times were good but then tragedy struck. He fell ill and received the appropriate medical attention however, he was unable to work. He received welfare money from the government but this stopped. When asked the reason for the stoppage of this benefit he sadly alluded to the influence of a family.

His house was burnt to the ground and he later purchased the house he currently lives in. He has been living on that plot of land for 15 years. As Mr. O’Neil shared how dejected and sad he feels at times from somewhere deep within emerged hope. He flashes a radiant smile saying “I have lots to be thankful for”.

Mr. O’Neil stands in front of his home

His neighbour, Ms Bruce, cooks for him and he is free to access water from her premises. The people of the community assist him with clothing and even though things took a long time in coming, representatives from a government agency had visited him to assess the situation and cut the foliage that sought to cover the house.

As we left, pictures of a long night spent in stench emanating from a piece of foam in less than hospitable conditions assailed my mind. I knew, this is it, we have only one chance! This is our generation and it is the time when we must effect change. We can’t do it when we are dead. Are you in for the challenge?

A view of Mr. Oneil’s home
Mr O’Neil and Ms. Bruce along with representatives of UNA-UWI

“Change starts with… You and I”

In 2001 Nelson Mandela asked “will the legacy of our generation be more than a series of broken promise?” Today the same question is being asked and it is not meant to be a rhetorical one.

Successfully eradicating poverty is highly dependent on the willingness and the commitment of those who those who never knew poverty and those who have escaped its tentacles, to assist in its elimination.

“We have time to reach the MDG – worldwide and in most, or even all, individual countries- but only if we break with business as usual. We cannot win overnight. Success will require sustained action across the entire decade between now and the deadline. It takes time to train teachers, nurses and engineers; to build roads, schools and hospitals; to grow the small and large businesses able to create the jobs and income needed. So we must start now ….”
United Nations Secretary General – Ban Ki-moon

Student make a presentation to the Salvation Army

    You can play your part by:

  • Educating yourself. You cannot effect change unless you are aware of that which needs changing.
  • Choose the cause that you are most passionate about.
  • Volunteer your time. Ending poverty takes time. Is there a child who needs your assistance with tutoring, can you mentor someone?
  • Make your government accountable. Are the MDGs incorporated into the national plan for development?
  • Share the vision – Poverty, a zero tolerance approach.

“The curse of poverty has no justification in our age. It is socially as cruel and blind as the practice of cannibalism at the dawn of civilization, when men ate each other because they had not yet learned to take food from the soil or to consume the abundant animal life around them. The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty.”
Martin Luther King Jr

Khian Lamey
UNA-UWI member


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