Unable to feed and clothe her two babies and without a comfortable place to call home, a Palo Seco mother is crying out for help.
For a long time, 22-year-old Nioka Alexander has hidden the extent of the squalor they live in, but last week Wednesday after she was caught stealing food items from a village grocery, her secret was revealed.
A social media video intended to shame her had the opposite effect.
She has received an outpouring of support and sympathy from the public.
What people saw was not a thief, but a mother living in poverty, desperate for milk and food to feed her two hungry babies.
One of the police officers who responded to the report of shoplifting ended up paying for the grocery items Alexander stole.
Hidden under her clothes and in a bag were a pack of Crix, three packets of chicken parts and a small pack of powdered milk.
Sympathising with her situation, the officer also gave her a drop home.
The grocery owner opted not to press charges, but not long after a video surfaced triggering an onslaught of criticism for the person who posted it.
As she wiped away her tears, Alexander sobbed, “What really made me do that in the grocery is because I was home frustrated, sit down crying, because I was studying my children had no pampers and milk. I just left home and go and that is what happen.”
She was speaking to Guardian Media at the rusty galvanize, wooden and concrete windowless and door-less shack at Beach Road, Palo Seco which Alexander, her sons—Massiah, four months and Jassiah, 15 months—and her husband Brandon Aguillera, 25, call home.
Oblivious of their dire circumstances, Massiah slept in an old baby car seat, covered by a tattered discoloured towel, while his brother played with an empty cardboard box in the concrete area adjoining the shack, both of them wearing only pampers.
Massiah does not have clothes while his brother barely has any clothing or footwear.
To get to their home, which is not visible from the road, they have to trek through a track hidden by tall bushes.
A steep flight of steps then leads to their home which is also surrounded by bushes and sits precariously close to the edge of a precipice.
The dark musty shack is barely furnished and has no running water or electricity. Whenever it rains, the galvanize roof leaks exposing the babies to further cold and damp conditions.
They collect containers of water from the standpipe to bathe, clean, wash, cook and sometimes drink. There is no stove or bathroom and the outhouse is situated a short distance away in the bushes.
Alexander admits that the bad choices she made in life led her to this predicament but she is asking for help, not for herself but for her babies.
She has two stepsisters, who are now police officers, but they did not grow up with them. After dropping out of school in Form Five, Alexander began pursuing a course with the Civilian Conservation Corps.
One day, at age 18, she never returned home.
“To be honest, I actually run away from home. I really wanted my own way.”
She began working with Cepep and after staying at the home of different friends she settled in Siparia where she met Aguillera.
In 2017, she moved in with him at the shack, which is owned by his family in Palo Seco where a year later she had her first son.
Every day was a struggle for food, said Alexander. She said she once worked for a man who sold market goods, but was no longer employed.
“If we make $400 (a day) we will get $100,” said Alexander.
Brandon Aguilera comforts one of his children. [Image by INNIS FRANCIS]
Her husband, a certified upholsterer, has been unable to land a permanent job as he has a criminal background, but he does part-time construction work.
The mother admitted she had stolen food from the grocery on two other occasions because her babies were hungry.
“I just wanted to make sure my kids comfortable and they have what they suppose to have. I could do without but is my kids, if you don’t feed them they could suffer and die,” she sobbed.
When she first found out about the video on Facebook, she said she felt embarrassed, especially since she knew her actions would bring shame to her family.
“If I did not do that nobody would have helped and I would just be there suffering with my two children, but everything happens for a reason.”
Since the video, she said strangers and family members have been turning up at the door to help her.
“I am thankful and I appreciate it.”
Aguillera said if they got assistance with materials he, his father and other relatives would be able to construct a proper home for them to live in.
Although he did not know his wife was going to steal, he understands why she did it.
“I leave she home with nothing,” whispered Aguillera said as he wiped his tears and bent his head.
He said he changed his life when he met her and since then he has been living his life for his wife and children.
Looking back at her life, Alexander encouraged young people to get a proper education.
“Get a job and have somewhere to live before you have any children. To be honest, children are very expensive and very hard to mind and if you don’t have what they want and they keep crying you will get frustrated and that’s how I does feel when I don’t have for my children,” she said.
Story by SACHA WILSON
Images by INNIS FRANCIS
Image caption: Nikoa Alexander and her common-law husband, Brandon Aguillera, 25, with their two children at their home at Beach Road, Palo Seco, on Saturday.