She is fast becoming a household name in Trinidad. A name that one may hear mothers in the future scolding their children, ‘doh be ah Neisha!’ – in essence, don’t be ungrateful. Neisha Wattley, a fellow citizen whose case has garnered national attention - her dire poverty initially pulling at the heart strings of the general public – has come out to say that due to the difficulty of gaining transportation for her children to go to school, she is willing to give up a fully furnished, 3 year rent-free, direct TV- having house. Really??
The question is, if every single citizen were to act like Neisha Wattley, where would we be? The social media distaste toward her attitude is very much well placed. Note the following: In lambasting the government’s perceived tardiness in giving her a house she exclaims: “dey does say things dat dey would do and will not do, two years ahead look ah now get d house, two years aback I supposed to get it, so how long I will wait again…” Note her words in the context of a Matthew Leotaud, 52, a CEPEP worker, whose house was destroyed by fire, and in his own words up to last year  was “squatting in a rubbish heap”; or a Brenda Felix, who stood waiting in line on a hot March morning in 2015 to check on the application of her brother. Her brother, Michael Edwards, was living in Beetham’s pensioner’s quarters and was suffering from diabetes, a stroke and eye problems. Or how about another Morvant resident (chose to remain anonymous) who applied for a home some 15 years ago, to be still on the waiting list for an HDC house. Neisha Wattley waited two years!? And has the unmitigated gall and lack of self-awareness to express such blatant ungratefulness so publicly?
I have witnessed a push on social media to defend this atrocious behavior, and I’ll venture to say that these are the people, or rather this is the type of sentiment, which has led the nation of Trinidad and Tobago to an almost chaotic and order-less state - a sense that some are allowed a pass, or to skip the line as it were. That winners and losers are best determined by the state.
On the other hand, the notion that to publicly reprimand or scorn the behavior of Neisha Wattley means to in some way be anti-poor is ludicrous. If Neisha Wattley is a representative of the poor in Trinidad and Tobago –whether it be, the working poor, or the dire poor – she is a bad one. She lacks the presence of mind and self-awareness to understand that she has been blessed – through no merit of her own – to be given a fully furnished house with all the necessary amenities, regardless of its’ location, much less 35 minutes away from where her children are to go to school.
Now, I am in no place to judge the life decisions of any other human being. But when the personal choices or life circumstances of an individual places them in a situation that in turn requires the state (which is the collective representative of us all) to come to their aid, then it becomes all of our business. And fair material for national discourse. With that said, it’s apparent that the obvious needs to be noted. Neisha Wattley has unfortunately made the mistakes which almost certainly condemns one to long term poverty. She most likely lacks formal education, indicated by her lack of command of the English language, has multiple children – which her obvious financial situation makes difficult to care for-, and most detrimental of all, carries an attitude of entitlement. Given such, her attitude of entitlement is not only surprising but disturbing – especially if this becomes the general norm in the context of the economic hardship which is rapidly spreading across Trinidad and Tobago.
The backlash on Facebook could simply be boiled down to not only the share rawness of social media (which one has to get accustom to), but the population’s rapidly reducing tolerance level - in the present economic environment. While others chastise social media users for not having sufficient empathy toward Ms. Wattley, it is clear that her concern is for herself. She seems to think that she bares little responsibility for her own station in life. What’s even more heart-wrenching is that there are some who are willing to justify her behavior. And justifying such behavior relegates Neisha Wattley into the hopeless place of seeing herself as a perpetual victim.
There are two fundamentally incorrect assumptions that supporters of Neisha Wattley’s behavior make: Firstly, the assumption that the state is more responsible for a person’s well-being, than the actual person. The job of the state is primarily to ensure the safety of its citizens and to operate a safety net which takes care of the elderly, invalid and disabled. All able bodied men and women ought to be contributors to the broader economy, not takers. Secondly, the notion that anyone who is disappointed by her clearly ungrateful behavior is anti-poor – meaning, not sensitive to the concerns of poor people in general-, or haven’t experienced poverty themselves. These two assumptions are simply wrong.
There is a dignity that must be maintained even though one may be materially poor. A firm commitment that through one’s own hard work you can make yourself better, and a humility and calm assurance that says, ‘I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my ship.’ We must all realize that poverty as a ‘condition’ has very little to do with material well-being, rather it’s a mind-set of victim-hood and entitlement that’s easily transferable from generation to generation.
Forget the intellectual musings of those locked in their ivory towers attempting to justify the unjustifiable, the attitude of Neisha Wattley is one that guarantees a future buried in poverty. The government ought not to be taking care of able-bodied men and women; the government instead needs to focus its attention on keeping its citizens secure, and on investing as much resources as possible in helping those who can’t help themselves – like our disabled brothers and sisters.
So to www.poorboyspaper.com's readers in Trinidad and Tobago and around the world, have a Happy New Year, and be your brother’s keeper!
Mikhail E.D. Byng
 Clarke Camille 2015. “Scores wait in line to apply for HDC homes.” Trinidad and Tobago Guardian (Online). Accessed December 31, 2016. http://www.guardian.co.tt/news/2015-03-10/scores-wait-line-apply-hdc-homes
Mikhail E.D. Byng was born in Trinidad. He is the author of Off the Island and a graduate student at the University of Belgrade. He speaks Serbian and English.
Trinbagonian. Traveler. Believer in God. Believer in Creation. Life long Student. Sports enthusiast.