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Ms Rita gives back to Trou Macaque

Published: 
Monday, November 21, 2016
Rita Simon: PHOTOS: ABRAHAM DIAZ

​Rita Simon has had a tough life but she was able to take care of herself and her three daughters on a piece of land in Trou Macaque, Laventille. Back then, she called a tapia house home, with a makeshift fireside to cook what little food she had for the family. 

Now at 70, still living on the same property but in a home of bricks and mortar, she gives to those in need. Reaching a milestone birthday earlier this year, she decided to give out 100 food baskets, their contents bought from the money she saved, to ensure someone else had something. This is not the first time doing it though. A devout Spiritual Baptist, Simon, who is known as Ms Rita, has been giving out baskets after every thanksgiving she has hosted. This year, the number increased.

“This is just me. This comes from within, that is not acting,” she said. “Humility, you have to live peaceably. As long as you possess these qualities, these are the fruits of the spirit.

“What motivates me more is a mother with children. I know what is hungry days.”

Trou Macaque was not an easy place back then. Although, it had nothing to do with its reputation for shootings and killings these days. Back then, everyone had hardships but somehow each person found a way to survive. Now, Simon said, it’s a case of a generation who was not born here.

“He was sitting on the wall. He was 15 or 16 at the time,” Simon recalled of a young man who lived in the area. “That little boy was becoming bad. I eat with him, I prayed with him. One day I talked to him and told him ‘Tell me if you sorry for the things you did. God want you to say it from your heart.’ He said it because he meant it but three days later, he was shot and killed. The whole thing is this - all can’t be saved. But you just can’t stop telling them if they do a life of crime. We have to endure.”

In her day, the survival strategy was how to earn money so that she could keep her family together. She was a student of Success RC School but her greater education came from her experiences growing up. At age 15, Simon was dreaming to reach water. Later, she said, she got the conviction that she had to be baptised and her baptism took place at Maracas Waterfall. But even so, her spiritual journey was not a smooth one. “I was getting real horrors and worries,” she said. At that young age, she had already begun smoking. She was a mother at 16. She worked at a club in Port-of-Spain, she worked as a water carrier with Special Works which was later called DEWD, she hustled a “five days” working with URP. She also stewed pommecythere and mango to sell.

“I didn’t have it easy, but I was a real warrior,” she said. “I see a whole year without work. I used to wear my clothes short and my knees black from praying. I had plenty friends but I had to let them go and pull myself in like a morocoy. I prayed. The rice pan dry, the sugar pan dry. I was walking with a safe of worry.”

But it didn’t stop her from looking after other children. When she was working at the club, she realised a little girl was staying in car parked in the yard and Simon let her stay with her although her house was not complete. The little girl’s mother mi-grated to the United States and never came back but Simon helped her get her school clothes and other things. Eventually, she was placed in an orphanage. “I never cry so in my life,” she said when the little girl left.

To her daughters, Simon was considered a tough mother.  “We did ’fraid you,” said Valerie, 50, the youngest daughter who lives with Simon. The eldest Vilma, 54, said she understood the reasons why Simon was tough on them. “She shielded us from that life,” Vilma said. “As a young girl growing up, between five and 16, we were not allowed to smoke, use foul language, and even wearing short pants was a big no, no. She was the only one to cuss, to smoke, to drink.”

“Back then it was licks,” said Si-mon. “If I had to do it again, I would do it differently.”

But Vilma, who used to dance with the reputed Astor Johnson Dance Company, said she doesn’t regret the tough love she received. She said her life values came from Simon and it boiled down to respect for self and for others. 

“Today I still practise some of the disciplines she chiselled into me. I came from her, but never lived the life she lived, because she was successful in forcefully carving out a unique path for me to follow, a path that kept me out of the hands of the law and out of ever present danger,” she said.

Now living in Washington DC, Vilma said she plans to follow her mother’s example there by feeding the poor. She said it is her way of keeping her mother’s legacy alive. As for Simon, she said once she has life in her she will continue to give to those who need. “In any form, I have to give. That’s my life. Whether in a small way or a big way. This is my commitment to God.”

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