“I find myself so depressed that I have to sleep to not remember what is happening. You know, every time I wake up I just feel numb. I just want to sleep. I just want to shut the world out and wish it didn’t happen…”
The single mother who last November took to downtown Belize City with a placard which said that she needed a job so badly she would even work for food, visited our newspaper today with her four children, dressed so smartly in their school uniforms that you would not even know by looking at them that they had nothing to eat for breakfast.
“We less fortunate people are the ones suffering. We are not getting the crumbs falling off the table,” Juanita Paulino said.
The latest labor force survey published in December indicated that women have an unemployment rate of 22% – double that of their male counterparts. The survey also had found that while the unemployment rate for men had fallen from 11.9% to 9.6%, it remained steady at 22 percent for women, which means that women like Paulino who were seeking gainful employment were having a harder time finding jobs than their male counterparts.
The dire consequence of this is that for poverty-stricken, single mothers struggling to find a job, they are unable to meet the basic needs of their children: food, clothing, shelter, education, and healthcare.
“Seven days, seven years – it’s been like this,” said Paulino, who lost her home in February after it was sold on the auction block.
According to information we received from DFC today, she would normally be given two weeks to a month after the sale of the house to vacate the premises. Paulino told us that she was informed by Shellymae Augustine that the house was sold to her on February 6 – which means that Paulino and her children could be required to leave the home anytime now. Tomorrow is March 6.
She said that the children cried when Augustine announced that she had bought the house from DFC.
All the mother is asking for now is for lumber to get a home built for her children.
Paulino said that earlier this year, she was taking care of her cousin’s baby for two weeks, and that was “heaven” while it lasted, but again, she found herself jobless, because the child’s mom is now home with the baby, which means that they no longer need a babysitter.
She said that no one will take her in with four children, but her aunt has given her permission to build a home on her land – but now, Paulino has to get materials to get a home constructed for her and her children. But that’s only the beginning of the story.
This morning, we visited her home in the Belizean-American area of Hattieville, a housing site of the Development Finance Corporation (DFC), to get a real sense of the plight of this woman, who makes her bed with a sheet on the hard concrete floor.
She told us that she has been unable to get light and water connections for her home, and she was out of cooking gas for her two-hole tabletop stove.
Inside the home, there were no beds (just mattresses and sponges for the children) and barely any furniture. She told us that she has had to sell most of her possessions to put food on the table.
Knowing that her home would be sold off due to the foreclosure, Juanita Paulino took to the airwaves last November, pleading for assistance in an effort to try and save her home.
Amandala understands that there had been attempts by the DFC to restructure her loan, but still, the mother had trouble keeping up with the new commitments.
Since childhood, the odds have been stacked against Juanita Paulino. She is a primary school dropout, having made her exit in Standard IV. Getting a well-paying job has been virtually impossible. In 1999, former Belize City Councilor Lillette Barkley-Waight (of the Opposition People’s United Party) helped her to apply for a job as a receptionist at the Belize City Council.
The following year, when her appointment was solidified, Paulino entered a $17,000 mortgage contract with the DFC. She said that she paid $100 every two weeks towards her monthly mortgage of $150 under a 20-year contract; however, she lost her job seven years later, when the ruling United Democratic Party assumed control of City Hall.
She told us that ever since then life has been a struggle.
“I find myself so depressed that I have to sleep to not remember what is happening. You know, every time I wake up I just feel numb. I just want to sleep. I just want to shut the world out and wish it didn’t happen—but reality [has] set in,” Paulino told Amandala.
Her plight goes far beyond not being able to pay for housing. She is also unable to feed her children, and furthermore, unable to meet their educational expenses without the assistance of family and friends.
Her youngest children, Nevaun Bol, 13, and Ernice Bol, 7, are attending St. John Vianney; and she is pushing for them to finish school, so that they won’t have to relive her struggle.
Her eldest, Flory Palacio, 18, is a student at Gwen Lizarraga High School. Her sister, Lorelei Palacio, 16, is in her final year at Pallotti High School. The Palacio girls are on scholarships, so Juanita does not have to worry about school fees, but graduation is coming up and the expenses will be piling up.
Not far away from Juanita’s home, we found a mother of 10 who had suffered the same plight, due to the breakdown of her marriage. Her husband no longer lives at the home, but the ownership documents for the house were still in his name.
The mother, Daisy Tablada, who tries to make ends meet by cooking tamales and other foods for sale, is also pleading for public assistance so that she and her children can have a secure roof over their head. Tablada said that her mother has given her permission to build on her land.
Amandala understands that there are other families in the Belizean-American area suffering a similar plight. When we called the DFC today, we were unable to get a sense of the scope of the foreclosures, since the relevant officer was unavailable at the time.
We were also unable to get a sense of how the DFC loan write-off program, funded by the Government of Belize, was applied in this housing zone. We were told that the last set of write-offs were used to close off accounts which had a balance owing after DFC foreclosed on certain properties.
For her part, Paulino accepts that they will have to move out of the home at the Belizean-American site; and while that will be a major life change for the family, they are not despondent.
Paulino said that the Almighty has a plan for her life, and it appears that she has to reach the bottom of the barrel to see the light. Her hopes are bolstered by encouraging words from her children. Her teen girls, Flory and Lorelie, expressed confidence that better days will come! Meanwhile, the girls say that they are trying to stay focused on school.
“I have smart children,” Paulino boasted.
While waiting at Channel 7’s newsroom to share their story, Juanita pointed to Ernice, who sat in the waiting area reading her schoolbook, giving her mother hope that at least her children will complete their education and not relive the cycle of hardships she has had to stare down.