“What have the people of St Thomas done to deserve this kind of treatment?”
A resident of Welchman Hall, who identified himself as Wesley Chandler, repeatedly asked that question during his submissions to Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley at Tuesday night’s St Thomas Speaks town hall meeting.
He came after a long line of residents had outlined their concerns, some of which were based on issues that have affected them for decades.
Residents from almost every district in the parish came with not only their grouses but with ideas and solutions for the way forward.
The Government team led by the PM included Deputy Prime Minister Santia Bradshaw, Attorney General Dale Marshall, Minister of Education Kay McConney and St Thomas MP Cynthia Forde.
They heard as residents made strong cases for improved lighting, better roads, better bus service, better water service and for key closed facilities to be reopened urgently.
“We need lights in St Thomas, Madam Prime Minister. Our districts are too dark at night. St Thomas needs lights at night,” said Shop Hill resident Gail Hoyte who listed a number of areas that need streetlights.
Felicia Cox, who has lived in St Thomas since she was born, made an impassioned plea on behalf of students who attend Alleyne School. She said her daughter and others were forced to stand at a bus stop with no shelter for hours, with no bus in sight. She complained that when buses did come, they were often overloaded and could not pick up any more passengers. She further lamented that when she took her daughter and others to school, the deplorable roads caused major damage to her vehicle.
“I just begging, let it [the bus] be reliable. The child actually wants to go to school, she doesn’t even want to transfer from Alleyne. These Alleyne School children love that school. The teachers in general have to be doing something right if the children love school and want to come. But we as parents are afraid that their education is really being compromised by the fact that sometimes they can’t even get to tests on time.
“I see kids on the street and when I am going up with her I will pick up other children. We are trying to be one another’s keeper but we are asking the Government to be our keeper too. We really, really, really need it,” Cox pleaded.
Her sentiments as they related to the bad roads were echoed throughout the night with many claiming that for the decades they were residing in the parish, they had never seen any road rehabilitation.
Jackson resident Wayne Hoyte not only complained about the roads but offered the Ministry of Transport and Works a suggestion that could alleviate the bottleneck of public service vehicles (PSVs) at Warrens. He called for a bus rest stop in the area as well as a revision of the current routes.
The St Thomas Community Centre and the Gordon Cummins District Hospital, both in Rock Hall, remain closed. The community centre has been closed for 36 years.
Residents pleaded with Government officials to intervene so that the area could benefit from free community training which could ultimately lead to job creation.
Patsie Nurse, who contested the St Thomas seat in the 2003 elections on a Democratic Labour Party ticket and then ran for the
Alliance Party for Progress (APP) in St Michael West in the 2022 polls, appealed for a parcel of land for the boys on the block in Porey Spring.
She said it could be developed for agriculture and also be a place where unemployed residents who are craft persons and other vendors could sell items.
Nurse complained about a lack of employment opportunities in the parish.
“We have a lot of people that do craft, cooking, all sorts of things, and we need to help these people to get money. Some people in St Thomas are not working and we need to help them,” the community activist said.
Prime Minister Mottley told the packed Lester Vaughn School hall that she was grateful for people like Nurse, who ran for opposing parties in the past but continued to do community work and agitate for better.
The government official on the panel all promised that the slew of issues outlined by residents would be addressed. PM Mottley explained the economic challenges and said that work would be done in phases.
Sadly, her words provided little comfort for the St Thomas residents who have been enduring these hardships for far too long.
That is why we are in full agreement and solidarity with Nurse who did a remarkable job advocating for her parish. Her words summed up the general tone and mood of all who spoke on Tuesday night: “Please, let me see something happening. I don’t want to hear any long, long talk. I want to see action.”