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Penal RC parish helps spare migrant families from homelessness

A migrant family awaits aid at St Dominic's RC Church, Penal (2019)

A group of migrant families in Penal/Debe were spared the ordeal of being homeless in a foreign land, through the work of the migrant ministry of St Dominic’s RC, Penal parish, with assistance from organisations and individuals which provided rental support.

Explaining how this came about Daniel George, Coordinator of the Parish Ministry for Migrants and Refugees said they appealed to landlords on the migrants’ behalf. “Most we spoke to reduced their rent from June-August between 10 and 26 per cent”. Afterwards they reached out to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and also the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) for assistance.

The PADF agreed to give $50,000 towards the rental assistance for 31 families in the first instance for three months, then extended this to four months, June to September. They also assisted with food hampers for 60 other families during this period. Added to this, the parish gave $5,000 monthly and the Living Water Community (LWC) $40,000 which was used to help more persons.

He said, “All told, we would have assisted around 60 families during this lockdown with rental assistance.” The most vulnerable were targeted first— pregnant women, single women with children, and the unemployed.

George said as the country reopened [the government announced reopening of the manufacturing sector from July 12] some migrants returned to work in the construction, small cottage industries, domestic work. However, the persons employed with casinos, bars, waterparks, which were still closed were “still in a difficult position”.

He added that the migrants assisted with rent were in the minority because the catchment area covered by the parish means more than 600 migrant families are registered for assistance. The families comprise an average of five to seven persons. Twice monthly food support is provided. This too, is a collective effort. In August, the Archdiocese of Port of Spain sent 700 hampers (from funds given by the state), 300 went to migrants and 400 to locals; and members of the parish contributed. IOM supported with 100 food vouchers valued at $500 each. LWC helps with food hampers and bulk food monthly.

While grateful for the help, George said, “it is never enough because we can’t really meet the needs of the 600 families”. The numbers continue increasing,

He disclosed that pre-Covid, the parish ran a school for migrants ages 5-15 years. However, with community spread of Covid, the service was suspended. Teachers and students of Holy Faith Convent, Penal (HFCP), teachers of the St Dominic’s Penal RC primary school and parishioners of St Dominic’s RC had volunteered their service, as well as migrants who were teachers in their homeland, conducted the classes at the parish hall and at the compound of HFCP on afternoons. The migrant teachers received a monthly stipend. George said the monthly transport cost for the children was $12,000. It was necessary to shuttle them because they lived some distance away from the teaching venue