The dawning of a new day
Sugar workers living in barracks relocated to new housing development
MAUREEN Thompson, 46, has been living under less than desirable conditions at the dilapidated sugar barracks on the Vale Royal property at the Long Pond Sugar Estate in Trelawny, for all of her life.
Her parents and siblings, who also live at the barracks, have worked long and hard on the vast sugar plantation on the estate for their livelihood.
But, living at the run-down barracks, built decades ago to house sugar workers, had proved to be very challenging.
Among the myriad of challenges on the barracks riveted in Thompson's memory was the fear of the inability of the ramshackle structure to withstand the heavy winds associated with storms and hurricanes.
"When we hear that a storm coming we have to fret because is wall house and some of it kind of break down and so on. So we start to fret and otherwise we move to one of the stronger houses over there (at another section of the barracks) and wait until the storm pass through," recounted Thompson, a mother of five.
"One year we got damaged because me and my children leave out and when we returned one side of the wall gone so we have to move to another room that was okay."
But less severe weather conditions have also proven to be challenging during life at the barracks, as family members were forced to brave the rain to use the outside bathrooms and kitchens.
"Whether rain or sunshine we would have to bathe outside without top (roof)," she told the Jamaica Observer West.
But all of this will soon be a thing of the past.
Last week, Thompson was among the first 39 recipients of keys to brand new housing units constructed at a cost of $155 million under the European Union funded Sugar Barracks Relocation project at Steelfield, near Spicy Hill, Trelawny.
The project will benefit 97 persons in that sugar-dependent area.
Beneficiaries of the units are only required to pay the costs associated with acquiring titles for the properties.
Thompson, like the other beneficiaries, is elated.
"Now we have inside bathroom, we have more space for me and three of my five children and my dad, and if I hear of a storm coming now I don't have to fret. All we need to do is just batten down," she argued.
"Thank everybody, thank God."
On Monday, Thompson who was among several families who were seen making preparations to have their furniture transported from the barracks to their new homes, confessed that when they heard of the relocation plans they were sceptical.
"When they came around and told us they were going to build houses for us some people didn't believe. We were saying that when that going come through. But see it here now. Anything that God put in store it has to come through," a delighted Thompson exclaimed
"We are glad."
Prime Minister Portia Simpson --Miller who led last week's handing over ceremony thanked the EU for financing the project.
Head of the EU, Paola Amadei was also grateful to see the project completed.
"It is these projects which I am most thankful to see first-hand, and it is on occasions such as this on which I am most proud of the work the EU does here in Jamaica. On my last occasion to the sugar producing areas in Trelawny, I said I looked forward to the day I could return and see keys in the hands of these deserving sugar workers, and I am truly pleased today to witness just that," Amadei remarked.
Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke also lauded the EU for funding the project.
"With the assistance of the European Union, we have not only been able to provide new physical infrastructure, but also new social infrastructure, which will aid families to transform their lives," Clarke argued.
Meanwhile, noting that since 2007 the EU has pumped $9billion into the Sugar Transformation Programme, Simpson Miller said the Trelawny project forms part of Government's provisions to resettle some 876 residents living in sugar estate barracks islandwide.
The prime minister disclosed that altogether 400 housing solutions will be constructed in seven relocation sites in four sugar cane growing parishes across Jamaica.
"Construction is expected to be completed in September this year at a total cost of $2.4billion," the prime minister said.
She also disclosed that the Government will be spending approximately $2.4 billion on social programmes to benefit sugar dependent communities over the next three years which will impact schools, health and sport facilities.
She added that already roughly $900 million has been disbursed to sugar workers and small cane farmers, to cushion the effects of the fallout from divestment of the public sector sugar estates.