In a dark, damp, windowless home partially shrouded by vines, lives a 22-year-old first-time mother Diane Ali and her three-week-old son, Imran Ali.
The child whose birth is not yet registered cries incessantly. He has never been breastfed and does not have a blanket to cover him at nights. His creased little face is covered with dozens of mosquito and sandfly bites. Unable to properly provide to his needs, Diane has no choice but to feed him powdered milk donated by a Good Samaritan. For now, he has a box of Stage One Pampers to wear but when it is finished, Diane says she will have to find money to buy cheap diapers from a wholesale store in San Fernando.
Diane’s mother Hasmeen Ali, who also lives with them in the ramshackle house at Hillpiece Road, Phillipine, said each day she walks through the affluent Palmiste community seeking help.
The money she accumulates is used to buy a few groceries for the family. The house is not owned by the Ali family who has lived there since 2016. It was abandoned by a neighbour and Ali said they moved into it after a relative secretly sold the house in which she grew up.
“We were still living in the house when it was sold and we were told we had to leave. We had no place to go so we came here. This is how we ended up living in these conditions,” Diane explained.
Sitting on a mattress with no sheets, the young mother said she got pregnant for a man she met at Ramleela celebrations in Palmiste Park, two years ago. Saying the man worked offshore, Diane admitted that he never provided any milk or diaper supplies for the baby since his birth at the San Fernando General Hospital.
“He came and saw me when I was pregnant but not since then,” she revealed.
However, she said the absent father planned to visit them on Sunday with supplies. Diane said she was not ready for a baby but when she visited a doctor he informed her that the baby was already too big for the pregnancy to be terminated.
“I have to take care of him but he cries a lot. He is always hot and we have to keep him out of clothes, “ she added.
Responding to claims that she has been using the baby to beg at Palmiste Park, Diane said this was not true. She explained that a male relative who is an alcoholic has been chasing her away from the house, especially at nights.
“When he comes home and there is no food he starts to cuss. He drives me and my mother. He does tell me to get out of here and go by my man, “ Diane said candidly.
She added that the relative makes her so frustrated that she takes her child and goes to the Park to clear her head. She said the baby is often crying and this makes the relative even more mad.
“I have no choice to go there in the night but I will try not to go because people telling me the baby will get sick if I keep him in the dew, “ Diane added.
She said because of their living conditions she wanted a good home for her son. Her mother Hasmeen said they were fortunate that the worshippers from the nearby mosque in Philippine often helped them with groceries.
However, she said they did not have a stove to cook food on. The bathroom is dysfunctional and all of their clothes are packed in boxes and in a suitcase. The house has no electricity or running water but Hasmeen said a relative brings bottled water to them. She also said it was dangerous for the baby to sleep on the mattress on the ground as snakes often slither inside through the windowless and doorless house. She also said they did not have money to pay for a house not did they own any land.
Neighbours said the family once owned land nearby but it was sold for $8,000. Anyone wanting to assist the family can contact Ali at 273-7928.
Contacted for comment, Minister of Social Development Cherrie Ann Crichlow-Cockburn said she will send an officer to visit the family immediately. She said an assessment will be done and a temporary food card can be provided immediately. She also said once assessments are done, the family can qualify to be placed in a rental unit for six months.
Reporter: Radhica De Silva