Extract from Article titled “Conditions in Barbados” in Section “The World-Wide Field” by WA Sweaney
CONDITIONS here are simply appalling, and are becoming worse every day. With a. population of more than twelve hundred to the square mile, you can imagine that an epidemic of smallpox is not a desirable thing to contemplate. The poverty, hardship, and suffering of the masses, even in ordinary times, are pitiable, but now they are simply beyond description. How the people live at all is beyond my comprehension.
For years the price of sugar, the chief and almost the only product, has been declining, until it is now below the cost of production, and ruin stares the planters in the face, and has already overtaken many of them. Imperial grants and loans have served for a time to postpone the crisis that now seems inevitable. Should the sugar industry collapse, which will no doubt be the case, many thousands of plantation laborers who now eke out a miserable existence on two or three days’ work at ten or twelve cents a day will be thrown entirely out of employment, to join the already immense number of idlers, and then there will be trouble such as we have not seen yet, bad as it has been and as it now is.
The smallpox epidemic, with the accompanying quarantine regulations, has greatly intensified all these unfavorable and disagreeable conditions. Nearly all provisions and supplies of every kind come from abroad, and of course the stoppage of commerce is followed by an immediate rise in prices, which greatly increases the suffering and hardship of the middle and lower classes, who are barely able to .exist under the most favorable circumstances. Then the interruption of commerce throws thousands of men out of employment, such as stevedores, lightmen, boatmen, cartmen, porters, and common laborers in general; it also works havoc among the merchants and other business men.
The present epidemic, although preceded by a warning one last winter, found the authorities totally unprepared to grapple with such a visitation. Hospital accommodations are totally inadequate, and the disease is increasing and spreading by leaps and bounds. As many as fifty cases in a day have been reported. No one knows how many have not been reported, nor how many have even been concealed. Of the six hundred cases which have been reported, more than half are still in their homes, with no possibility of proper isolation, care, or treatment. In the slums, where, of course, the disease reaps its greatest harvest, from six to twelve persons live in huts about eight by twelve feet in size. These huts almost touch one another; they stand on either side of narrow lanes, or halls, which fairly swarm with goats, pigs, poultry, and people. However, in view of the conditions, it would seem that the sanitary authorities do their work in a very thorough manner. The streets are kept cleaner than one would expect under the circumstances.
When the epidemic broke out, the people refused to be taken to the isolation stations, concealing their sick, and mobbing the sanitary officers and doctors in the performance of their duties. This feeling was intensified by the practice which prevailed at first of throwing the smallpox corpses into the sea. The masses of the people rebelled at this, as they set great store by the privilege of following their friends to the grave; in fact, funerals and weddings are gala events here. Among the masses long lines of people on foot follow the hearse to the grave. The higher classes, of course, ride in their carriages, as elsewhere. The business of fishermen, a large class,’ was also ruined by these burials at sea, so the authorities were forced to abandon that practice.
At first the people entirely refused vaccination; but the government, the ministers, the school-teachers, the newspaper people, and sensible and influential people generally engaged in a crusade of education, and now thousands are daily baring their arms for vaccination, which has been made free at government expense.
Many of the people are fatalists, and believe that if they are to have the disease,’ there is no use of trying to avoid it; and so when a case develops, a curious crowd, sometimes numbering hundreds, will surround the house. Frequently persons go to the public buildings to report themselves whIle covered with smallpox. Sometimes they are sent to a hospital, and sometimes turned away for lack of room. They are always surrounded by a curious throng.
None of our people have taken the disease, add we are trusting in God for protection. O ur work is making advancement, despite the unfavorable circumstances. The church is alive and active, and all our meetings are well attended, interesting, and helpful. On Sunday night the church is filled, and even surrounded. Many are interested, and some are preparing for baptism at the soon-coming quarterly meeting.
We are planning a temperance program for the near future. There is great need that something be done in this direction, and we expect success.
The work of the school is encouraging, despite the meager facilities. We are having a three weeks’ vacation now, owing to the intense heat and smallpox and vaccination. We are of good courage, and glad we are here; for the need of humanity surely cannot be greater anywhere than in this place, and we want to be where we are most needed. Our health is good, for which we daily thank God.
If we had a strong, earnest, energetic, and consecrated couple, possessing ‘some knowledge of nursing, business methods, cooking, etc., we would start the health food business at once. There is a great demand for it, and I think that it would be self-supporting from the beginning, and would develop into treatment rooms later. Are there not persons among our people who are willing to place all on the altar for service? I know there are, and we pray that God will send the proper persons. They would need to be patient, humble, true as steel, and willing to forego ease and comfort for the sake of the Master, who sacrificed all for us. They would need to come depending on God and their own energies, and not on the Mission Board, for support. We often wish that our brethren who have means could see and hear the sights and appeals that greet our eyes and ears continually. We have helped many of our dear people who are destitute, having no means of support. We are glad to share our means with them, but it is only a drop in the bucket compared with the need. Some of our own dear people go several days with nothing to eat, at times, and never complain or tell of their sufferings, and then there are thousands of others, not of our faith. How much we long for a little of the plenty that many of our brethren enjoy in the States! A little goes a great ways here. A penny a day will keep a person from starving, but many do not have that much. Pray for us.