Projects Abroad reaches out to elderly St Elizabeth resident

BY ALICIA SUTHERLAND Observer staff reporter sutherlanda@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, April 22, 2013

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FAIRFIELD, St Elizabeth — Though Neville Witter, affectionately called ‘Bill’, was promised a home seven months ago, he wasn’t totally convinced even when construction began in November and picked up pace in February.



Everything changed when the affable 77-year-old asthma patient was handed a key to a new home earlier this month through Mandeville-based organisation, Projects Abroad Jamaica. "I never believe say I gwine get a home," he said. "Oh God, mi never expect say a suh it stay. The asthma gone," he added in jest as he looked around in awe.



Witter’s reality for the last three years was a one-room dwelling, made of zinc and board, in which he was allowed to live by a "kind person" in Exton, south-east St Elizabeth.



Those familiar with Witter’s situation say prior to that, he shared a home with his mother and sister in Junction in the parish for many years. However, they eventually had to leave because the owners needed the property.



Not having a home of their own, they relocated and lived in separate places. His mother and sister reportedly died shortly after. Some believe that their untimely passing resulted from the separation.



Witter lived alone and eked out a humble existence in Exton through subsistence farming and the consideration of others, primarily a neighbourly couple. However, over time, the structure of the place he called home became "totally compromised".



It was reportedly waspinfested , had no ceiling, no electricity, no running water, no bathroom and a brokendown outside kitchen.



Witter told the Jamaica Observer that he also had to contend with water blowing in on him when it rained, which tend to aggravate his asthmatic condition.



Projects Abroad Jamaica, which began operating in 2008, has its parent body in the United Kingdom (UK) and is a private volunteer organisation that promotes cultural exchange. Volunteers come to Jamaica for short periods from countries such as Germany, Denmark, The Netherlands, the UK, Belgium, Australia and France to work in areas such as health care, education and sports and to undertake community projects mainly in St Elizabeth and Manchester.



But building a home for the St Elizabeth resident was uncharted territory for the organisation.



Having been made aware of Witter’s living conditions, Projects Abroad’s assistant country director and desk officer, Cherricha Jacobs, rose to the forefront of efforts to extend the support that he was receiving from the ‘good Samaritans’ in his community.



Jacobs, who grew up in Exton, previously tried to get a home for Witter through Television Jamaica’s Christmas Wish List promotion and the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), before the request was made of her own organisation.



"We decided that if we can sleep comfortably, Bill should sleep comfortably. Projects Abroad UK gave the go-ahead to do the project and provided funding," country director Dr Bridgette Barrett told the gathering of local and international volunteers and curious onlookers at the handover.



Witter’s new home, built on his own land in Fairfield — also in southeast St Elizabeth — came at a cost of $350,000 from the donor organisation. The concrete structure, complete with furnishings, includes a bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, and is fitted with a 200-gallon water tank.



Witter seemed at home on his new verandah when the Observer Central visited and was heard making small talk about plans for a flower garden.



Witter’s nephew, Glosford ‘Blacka’ Witter, said his elderly uncle, a father of two children, had to refill his asthma pump every five days. He believed the illness was a direct result of the previous appalling circumstances in which he lived.



"This (donation), or something like this, was the only hope," he said, as he took a break from making final touches to the new home.



The Projects Abroad country director gave the elder Witter the assurance that the support would continue.



"…This project really means a lot… You will continue to see us and have our support," she said.



Witter also benefited from cash and kind from other groups and individuals.

   


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