‘We need more than basketball courts’
By COREY CONNELLY Sunday, March 3 2013
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Akil Audain (with cellular phone), Councillor for the electoral district of Beetham/Picton, looks over a proposal with a resident of Straker Village, ...
Brutal killings, fear of reprisals and ongoing gang warfare never distract Akil Audain when he ventures into his electoral district of Beetham/Picton in Laventille.
Nor is the stockily built People’s National Movement (PNM) councillor fearful of giving the people in his electoral district the representation “they justly deserve.”
“I am going into my areas,” he declared last week. “If you hear a shooting, you just don’t go up there.You have to be wise because you don’t know what could happen. But these people need representation.”
As the local government representative for Beetham/Picton, which includes crime-plagued communities of Beverly Hills, Desperlie Crescent, Canada, Dan Kelly and Prizgar Lands, Audain admits that people are often afraid to visit the district.
“The crime situation is a tough one... Anyone would be scared. Most times people are afraid to come into the area with me because of the crime,” he said.
Audain maintained that residents are normal human beings, and each part of Laventille has its own unique culture.
Born and raised in Snake Valley, Laventille, Audain said he offered himself for the job of councillor before the November 2010 local government election, after much prayer and consideration.
“I love serving and helping people,” he said.
What he did not know, though, was that he was being placed in the Beetham/Picton district.
“I put myself up and this area was given to me and people were saying, ‘You mad, why take that? Laventille people don’t want anything good for themselves.’ That was the response, but I prayed on it and I was told ‘Yes.’ ”
So, how difficult is it to be a councillor in one of the country’s crime hot spots?
“To some, it may seem very difficult because it is a tough area ... But, really and truly, once you are genuine to the people, they will accept you,” Audain said.
Since coming into office, the councillor said he has taken note of residents’ complaints about politicians’ empty promises over the years. However, he said he has adopted an open, in-your-face approach to representation — one which recognises the frustrations of government bureaucracy.
Audain, who enjoys community work, added, “I try not to promise anyone anything, because I know the (delays of) bureaucracy ... you can’t do as much as you want to, as soon as you want to do it.”
One of 12 representatives in the San Juan/Laventille Regional Corporation, Audain regards his area as perhaps the most challenging with regard to crime and meeting people’s expectations.
The councillor said he makes it a policy to inform his constituents about the challenges involved in projects they wish to undertake — whether it’s a road or box drain.
“When I explain the process, they seem to be a little more at ease,” he said.
“When you promise people, there is an expectation that it is going to be done. So, I try not to promise what I cannot do.”
Outside of violent crime, Audain said, stigmatisation was perhaps the biggest challenge for Laventille people. He added that the dependency syndrome, for which residents are continuously chastised, was fuelled, in part, by the lack of opportunities.
“They always want (something), because they don’t always get the opportunity,” he told Sunday Newsday.
Audain described a young man who told him he had sought work at a Chinese business on Charlotte Street Port-of-Spain, but was turned down because of where he lived.
“He was getting the security job, but when he told them he was from John John, they told him ‘No.’ That is the plight of many in the community. So, imagine that you have children to see about and you are not working as a man or as a mother looking after her children: it becomes frustrating. That does not mean that you have to turn to a life of crime. That is the problem.”
“Some see it (crime) as no other way out, but we have to ... make them think a different way,” he said. Reversing the mindset is not difficult, Audain contends, insisting that the young children must be targeted.
He said, “It is hard to break old habits. It is hard to get a 30-something-year-old to change what he has been doing all his life. We have to target the younger ones.”
It was for this reason that Audain lent support to the work of Organisation for Initiating Success (OIS), a community-based group which last year celebrated the achievements of Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) students in the Beetham/Picton area.
“But we need to take it a step further; we need to nurture the young ones .... before peer pressure takes over,” he said.
In relation to curbing the cycle of violence, Audain said the authorities must listen and respect the voices of the people.
“We need to show the young ones and the people that we care about them, and (respect them) as humans,” he said.
“If you go to the people of Laventille, they will tell you what they want. They could even give you solutions to stopping certain things. But we don’t listen. ... I remember when Jack Warner went to John John and he said he had a peace agreement. People were telling him: ‘We could tell you how to stop the crime.’ We are not too sure if he listened. We are seeing a resurgence in the crime. Beverly Hills has been crying out, since they removed the police.”
Residents, he insisted, must feel like they are part of the process.
“When they tell us what they want, we can prioritise it, and let them prioritise it too. (For instance), I did a drain in an area. The drain (was) supposed to (be done) before the road, but most people wanted the road first. That was their decision, not mine. So, if they don’t like it at the end of the day, they have to live by their decision.”
Audain said he was offended by the Government’s apparent penchant for constructing basketball courts and football fields as a primary means of channelling youth frustrations.
“Every government, past and present, has been guilty of this. People speak about social programmes; (they) go on a spree of building basketball courts and football fields. But what about tennis?” he asked. “We have this idea that these communities are only good for these things. So that is all you are hearing from them. Why don’t we have a swimming pool in Laventille? Teach them, give them another avenue. What about badminton, table tennis, hockey, chess, scrabble, draughts? Don’t only push the football, the cricket and the basketball down their throats. Not everyone would want that.”
Audain said the elders in the community should help shape a positive future for the youths and be role models.
“Years ago, Ras Shorty sang in his song that the TV is our babysitter. And it is true, because sometimes parents have to work around the clock to see about their children. Even more so now, because the cost of living is worse,” he said.