The face of poverty: Christine’s story Living on 6 bucks a day

POSTED: 06/27/14 1:52 AM

St. Maarten / By Hilbert Haar – Stories about the high cost of living, about children that go to school hungry, and about senior citizens that do not manage to make ends meet are rife and politicians will grab this issue in the coming months to win sympathy-votes. Who are the people that have to make do with little and that still manage to survive? Today will present several stories about this topic. In this first part, we present Christine, a retired nurse.

The Come Center opposite the Vlaun garage in Philipsburg is one of the few places where senior citizens are able to meet and share their stories and their concerns. The center is the outreach branch of the Thy Kingdom Come Ministries International Church that is housed in the same building. Director Donna Wilson says that sending visitors to the Come Center on their way with God’s word only is not enough. People, especially seniors, have their daily concerns to deal with, and the center offers partial relief. On Wednesday, seniors gather there for spiritual and down to earth food, and for companionship, games and handicraft.

The center’s Dorcas Closet and Pantry provided clothing to those who need it and the feeding program strives to offer people at least two hot meals a day. The center also organizes a literacy program.

One of the visitors to the Come Center yesterday was Christine, who was prepared to tell her story about living in poverty.

The 64-year-old lives in South Reward where she has to make do with her old-age pension of 927 guilders per month. Light, water and cable bite 600 guilders out of her tiny budget. That leaves 327 guilders for food, transportation, and clothing. That is 10 guilders and 90 cents per day – or 6 dollars.

“I worked for 41 years as a nurse, but I do not have a company pension,” Christine says. She started working in Aruba, moved in 1972 to St. Maarten and did a stint in Saba. She retired four years ago at the age of 60, after suffering from kidney stones.

While there are maybe still some pension guilders to be had in Aruba, Christine has not seen that money yet. It involves a lot of paperwork – nothing comes easy.

“Because Christine worked in different places it affected the level of her old-age pension,” explains Raymond Jessurun, chairman of the St. Maarten Seniors and Pensioners Association SMSPA who sits in on the interview.

This afternoon, the SMSPA meets in the Senior Citizens Recreational Center in Hope Estate with one thing on its mind: action.

Jessurun is a fiery speaker, someone who speaks from the heart. Addressing the seniors that were yesterday at the Come Center, he relates how political parties have been approaching members of his association to be on their list for the elections. “They also approached me,” Jessurun says. “But you know what? That is all political gimmickry. They want me on their list so that you will vote for them. Last time, Dr. Lloyd Richardson went on a list for us. What has he done for us? Nothing. I am not going to leave you, I stay with you.”

The seniors applaud Jessurun’s address that is designed to encourage them to attend this afternoon’s meeting.

Back to Christine, who earned a salary of 1,800 guilders per month when she was working. Now her income has dropped by almost fifty percent. “I am diabetic and the diet I need is more expensive than other food,” she says.

She goes shopping once a month and spends on average 90 or 100 guilders ($50 to $56). The supplies she gets are mainly yoghurt, liver sausage, bread, and Becel butter. “Coffee, I take that in a small bottle.” And that will have to last her a whole month. For clothing, Christine goes to the second-hand market behind the old fire station in town.

“Sometimes I feel hungry,” she says. There is sadness in her voice, but her eyes also betray a steel reserve, a determination not to give up.

Aruba, where she was born, arranges some things better. “Seniors have a card that gives them discounts in the stores,” she says. “If I have to take a bus in St. Maarten I have to pay for it. In Aruba transportation for seniors is free.”

What she does for recreation? “I go here to the Come Center,” she says. “I read, I watch TV, I am doing things at home. I don’t want to think about the other things I would love to do.”

Dire as the situation may be, some people could still learn something from Christine: she has no debts. “I know how to budget,” she says proudly. “I manage with the money I have.”

On Friday Today will publish a second story about living in poverty.

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