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Tackling poverty in Barbados

by Sharifa Medford

In spite of the social safety nets which have been provided by governments over the years, there is still room for other initiatives which could improve Barbados’ poverty profile, with the view to total eradication of poverty.

Through empirical evidence provided by the Welfare Department, it has been suggested that any prevailing extreme poverty in Barbados is in fact inter-generational, and, therefore, the need to develop a holistic social intervention programme for families and households exists.

In 2002, Chile, also seeing the need to assist the extremely vulnerable persons in that society, established an initiative labelled the Chilean Puente (Bridge) Programme. It sought to empower participating families with the basic tools to enable them to overcome destitution and facilitate their integration into mainstream society. The programme proved successful as extreme poverty which stood at five per cent of the population for several years, decreased to 3.2 per cent between 2003 and 2006.

Realising the high success of the Chilean Bridge Programme with its promotion throughout the region by the Organisation of American States, Barbados, in 2008, joined the second phase of the Caribbean Puente (Bridge) Programme, along with St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Suriname.

Currently, the island has established its own poverty intervention scheme called the Implementation Stabilisation Enablement and Empowerment Bridge Programme. Similar to the Chilean programme, the ISEE initiative will tackle poverty from the household level, addressing the needs of each member of that household and seeking to transition persons from a state of dependency to empowerment.

It will comprise four areas of critical intervention: Identification/Assessment — the vulnerable persons are identified and their needs assessed; Stabilisation — the households’ immediate and urgent needs are met; Enablement — the necessary skills to survive are imparted; and Empowerment — participants would have acquired the capacity to succeed and excel in society.

Through the ISEE Bridge Programme, now in its pilot phase, 30 families have been selected from each constituency, based on well formulated criteria. Minister of Social Care, Steve Blackett, described the process of selection as “very transparent” and explained that Social Workers of the Welfare Department recommended families based on information which they had gathered over a number of years.

“We are assured that the families we have selected truly represent a cross section of Barbadian families whose situations merit this level of attention and consideration,” Blackett stated.

Guiding the families through the programme for the next two years are 23 trained social workers — 18 of whom will act as household facilitators and five supervisors. Blackett pointed out that the facilitators will liaise with members of the households to conduct the necessary assessments and create strategies to address the specific challenges affecting them. They will then communicate the requisite information to the appropriate agencies to service the highlighted needs.

Family issues which will be addressed during the programme will fall under seven “pillars”: Personal Identification; Education and Human Resource Development; Health Promotion; Family Dynamics; Housing Conditions; Employment; and Income/Social Benefits.

With this approach, Blackett pointed out that families will “be encouraged to do self-examination, to think creatively and come up with workable solutions”.

“The aim is for the results of the programme to be self-sustaining. It will not be a case of just giving hand-outs; we desire to see lasting changes in these families, with all members being empowered to be the best they can in all areas,” he underscored.

The Social Care minister said he expected success of the Barbados-based programme comparable to that of the Chilean Puente Programme, but noted that the extreme poverty experienced in other countries was not the case in Barbados.

“In Barbados the pattern of poverty is one of social deprivation, rather than that of extreme poverty,” he emphasised.

Alluding to the significant administrative, financial and technical investments which were made to initiate the programme, Minister Blackett asserted that he saw no reason for failure or disappointment.

“The benefits will be real, relevant and life transforming. People will be given a sense of personal responsibility, achievement and fulfillment… I have great hope for the success of this ISEE Bridge Pilot Project,” he affirmed.

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