It was hard to tell the roads from the rivers and drains yesterday. But the frustration and despair etched on residents’ faces told a story of the hardship to come.
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From rock bottom to still live her dreams
With two truckloads of household items, her personal belonging and her four children, Elizabeth Francis stood on a pavement in Arima one night in January 2009 looking up at the sky. “God please help me,” she prayed, looking up. “I had no clue where I would sleep that night. We were homeless.”
Francis, the daughter of a successful Wallerfield farmer, had grown up in a comfortable home and was running her own business by age 15, designing and making clothes for sale.
Bunji Garlin, who she grew up with in Wallerfield, did graphic art before he became an entertainer and had designed the name for her business, Christique Designs by Liz.
The business was good and she had her life all worked out. She would retire at 45. Her dreams seemed set to be fulfilled when she entered an arrangement with a man in 2005 to buy a property.
Francis invested over $200,000 in this five-apartment building in Arima, all her accumulated savings, believing she was making payments towards the purchase of the million-dollar property. Seven years later, she was on the street, homeless, outside the same property. She was conned and, try as hard as she might, she got no justice.
Francis said she closed her clothing business and stayed at people’s homes and rented for years, making garments in constricted spaces. Money was hard to come by and she even learned what it really meant to be hungry.
“I hit rock bottom and did not want to go on anymore.”
Nine years later, Francis, is a manager at the NGO, Not Without a Cause, of St James and is rebuilding her business slowly but surely.
“Things are looking up. I am happy and at peace. I don’t have a million dollars but I dress like it,” she says.
One of her daughters, April Francis, quietly supported by Garlin and his wife Fay-Ann Lyons, placed first in the Olympic trials for the middle distance event but didn’t make the time. Francis is still proud of her. “Her resilience encourages and inspires me.”
Most importantly, Francis’ perspective on what is meaningful and worth living for has changed. She devotes most of her time working with NGOs which help the less fortunate and oppressed.
Apart from Not Without a Cause, she is planning a major fund-raising project for sexually abused victims with the Organisation for Abused and Battered Individuals. “Now I can understand what it is to be hungry. When someone tells me they have nothing to eat I don’t take it lightly,” she says.
Francis has been to St Vincent and Haiti with Not Without a Cause where it opened medical clinics and schools. “We take school supplies, food, clothing to poor communities.” She said it was not an easy road getting here. “I found my turnaround in God.”
On one particularly low day during the bad times, she cried out to God, she said. “How do I fix this Lord? “I took full responsibility for what happened but I didn't enter into this investment expecting to be robbed.
“I felt hopeless. This injustice just didn't leave me broke and in debt. It stole my dreams, my will, wounded my pride. I wanted to die,” she recalls. She said through her tears her eyes fell on words written in the classified section of a T&T Guardian newspaper spread out before her. “If anyone can fix it, God can.”
“I don’t know where those words came from. I never saw them again.”
She said she learned to trust and allow Him to take her forward and not make her own plans but move only when He said to move.
“I have seen God work in my life after I gave up my way of fixing this. I began to move when he said move. I was provided with a job and awesome opportunities.”
Francis started a Fine Arts Degree at the University of T&T and is determined to complete it. She has expanded her business to include catering because she cooks well, she said. She advised unemployed people to look deep within themselves and search out their talents.
“Most importantly, I have opened myself to be used to uplift and empower those in need. I have a story to share with them, my story, to inspire them.
“I live life from a different perspective today. My experience has helped me to have even more empathy for those in need,” she said.