Residents take on tough job to build road after decades of neglect

Residents take on tough job to build road after decades of neglect

Senior staff reporter

Monday, December 09, 2019

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STRADDLING the lush parishes of St Elizabeth and Manchester the community of Oxford Land Settlement, deep in the island's south coast, literally has the best of both worlds and could very well be paradise but for the hellish, stony, gutted track which serves as a roadway into the area.

Residents of the verdant rural community, who have for years been begging various political representatives and other interests to assist them in improving the roadway after their pleas fell on deaf years, took matters into their own hands and are building themselves a 'road'.

The behemoth task though is proving a bit more than them and once again they are appealing for help from the platform of their own community effort.

A gritty stretch of roadway, constructed from marl and cement with crude waterways greeted the Jamaica Observer team when it visited the lush rural community last Thursday. The blissfully quiet hamlet secreted by trees of every kind and greenery located just off the Oxford main road shimmered in the morning sun, a handful of men and women briskly debushing the sides of the newly constructed road. Some distance away a small plume of smoke marked the spot where the cuttings were being thrown for burning.

“I have lived here all my life and I am a member of the Oxford Community Association. We have been trying to fix our road, we have reached out to Government, we have taken to social media, we have done a lot of self-help to fix our roads. We started a group the fourth of July and we tried to raise funds to assist us because the road conditions have gotten worst over the years,” community member Audia Green told this newspaper.

She said the two miles or so of roadway running through the community has never been asphalted and has over the years sunken further and further, becoming little more than a dirt track made much worse by treacherous protruding rocks, a barbed hazard to tyres and feet no matter how well clad.

“It has caused stress and distress and poverty. Once it was a booming farm area but vehicles don't want to come in anymore. For example, even if you go out to get stuff nobody [taxis] wants to come in to drop you off. If somebody comes in you know you will have to pay excess. The normal fare on the main would be $100 to $200 but anyhow you want to come anywhere around here so, yuh thinking about $2,500 extra; take it or leave it and you are happy to pay,” she told the Jamaica Observer.

“People don't come in here unless it's a charter for materials, and so when we had the trucks coming in here some weeks back the gentleman had was to dump some marl so as to make it easier for him to come up here. What we have been trying to do is help ourself. We have been trying to reach out to everybody to help us,” she lamented further.

She said appeals had been made to incumbent People's National Party Member of Parliament for St Elizabeth North East Evon Redman, who is being replaced by veteran Basil Waite as the candidate for the upcoming general elections, constitutionally due in 2021, without success.

“We voted him in, but we have never seen Mr Redman and I've never seen Mr Waite in this region. There is the councillor, Mr Everton Fisher, he knows about the road and we have had numerous conversations about the road over the years. We have gotten marl from Mr Fisher, but you know when the rain falls it goes, so it's just like temporary,” Green explained.

The community is home to several teachers, ministers of religion, business persons and several students but the temptation to become reclusive is very strong, she said.

“They (students) walk with their school shoes in their hand and an old shoes and cloth to wipe their feet when they get to the main road. Those of us that drive we have a hard time too. When you go out you wonder 'will I come back'. For example, when it rains you have to get help to push the vehicle sometimes to get back in and maintenance is excessive,” she shared.

“I am impacted severely; front-end parts and tyres all the time, every time. I had another type of vehicle and I had to get rid of it, I had to go to the commercial side of things to make it easier on myself and on the vehicle, too,” Green, who is involved in sales, told the Observer.

Those carrying the next generation to populate the community have enough to deter them.

“Persons who are pregnant have to take it slowly when walking through, and when it is delivery time, from the get-go (labour), you get someone to come for you because you have to take your time to get out of here. It impacts self-esteem. For example, if you feel like going out on the road just the thought of going and the hassle, just to go down the mental toll it takes,” she said exasperatedly.

So in November when the frustration was neck high residents put their frustration, disgust and distress to good use.

“We don't have any expertise in building roads, but we had to do something. We took a day for the back hoe to work, we spent a day gathering stones and then we had three workdays from morning to night; persons from the adjacent community of Roses Valley who know about our situation came to help us. We have spent just under $300,000 and used some 140 bags of cement and some five loads of marl,” Green said.

The result of that toil was evident, but she was quick to point out that its longevity was not known.

“We don't know how long it will last, but we have to help ourselves. We don't know how it will stand up [to pressure] but we have to help ourselves. It's a community effort. The road condition impedes us seriously, we are retarded,” she expressed.

Derrick Davy one community member who was busy chopping away the brush ceased his toil to add his two cents.

“I live in this community from birth; the road conditions have been poor from birth. I have children and it's rough in the mornings for them to go to school. We have it rough so we are trying to see what we can do to make it better,” he said before briskly resuming his task.

One elderly married couple, who, too, were doing their best to help, brought their humour to the situation.

“I am from Seaforth in St Thomas, I've lived here about 25 years, I moved here with my husband, yuh nuh know seh woman fool fool,” 72-year-old Hortense Joseph-Webb quipped jovially, sparking this response from her equally humorous 77-year-old husband Richard Webb.

“I'm a traveller you know, I was travelling and I meet her the 7th of the 7th, 1977, yuh know when dem say the four seven's clash,” he laughed.

“Yuh naah figet eeeh,” his chirpy wife teased.

Sobering, the old-timer said, “I brought her here and we have four kids. It affect us bad, yuh want to come in here no transportation want to take us.”

“One of the time I had called RJR [talk show] and tell them, it was a laughing when I told them; I told them not even donkey can walk on the road,” his wife rejoined, laughing heartily at her own joke.

One other community member, who gave her name as Beatrice Hodges Parkins, said the road has been a sore point for ages.

“I'm living here from I was eight and now I am 55, so can you imagine it has gotten worst. When it rains, just where the asphalt ends after you turn in from the main you cannot cross unless you are wearing water boots. It is terrible, we need some help. The politician them don't business with wi, I don't know why they are sabotaging us around here,” she said.

Asked, so why did you vote? She replied: “Mi nuh know, maybe because we don't have no sense”.

Joseph-Webb, however, had an answer for that too, “Or a just luv wi luv to meck X (mark used on election ballot) because when I was going school an teacher do so whap, whap (making an X) yuh know yuh work wrong, from yuh do x yuh is wrong,” she chimed in merrily.

But Vincent Green, another community member, was in no mood for laughs, “Oh God almighty, man look how long wi want a likkle road. Yuh tink a little work wi a work pon dis road? Wi work on it yuh know miss; to mix the material, mi a tell yuh seh wi work. Ah coulda not even tan (stand) up when work done a evening time, yuh tink fi mix material fi meck road a easy ting?” he said.

The residents, doubtful help will be forthcoming from their political representatives, say they are appealing to anyone moved by their plight to meet them halfway. Videos and pictures of their efforts so far have been placed on an Instagram page @greenAudia and a savings account (005-10-59463-7) established at the Balaclava People's Cooperative Bank to place funds towards the venture.

On Thursday, while the Observer was documenting the community's dilemma, the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries issued a call for farmers to write formal letters with requests for road repairs in their communities. Speaking at the ministry's quarterly press briefing in Kingston, minister without portfolio in the ministry JC Hutchinson said these letters must be sent to the parish manager of the Rural Agricultural Development Authority.

Green, upon hearing of the development, said the community would be exploring that avenue.

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