We knew coming into our trip that volunteering was going to cost us money. What has surprised us is two things; how fast you spend money and how any single person makes ends meet.
Cuso would cover the costs for a single person such that they should not be out of pocket while living in country. Now this supposes that you do not have a mortgage back home and can simply put your things in storage, if that was the case I would think that you could manage. However being a family of four it is different for us. We knew we would be losing money every month and the price is worth the experience.
When it comes to consumption, prices are really not that much different than in Canada for most things. And since our consumption is the same we definitely spend more than we make. Of course some things are a lot less- I can buy soap for about $0.40 a bar, half dozen buns for $1.20, a pair of sandals for $10, a skirt for $14 and a haircut for about $20 at a salon, fresh tuna steaks that feed 5 for about $9.50. Some things are ridiculous - a colour photocopy is $2.50, a cup of yogurt can be up to $3.00, a binder was $6.50, and $3.50 for a cup of tea. But generally things cost about the same. What is not the same is the salaries.
This past week I was very fortunate to have two people talking frankly to me about their financial situation. One person was making $1,000XCD a month and the other was a single mother making $700XCD a month. This would be about $440 and $310 Canadian. One of the people I was speaking to had asked for some help trying to figure out what they should be doing and when we did an income versus expense statement (before food and clothing and without electricity and water), this person should have been in the hole $200 XCD every month. I asked how they were eating? Answer-by the grace of God. How can I argue? There seems to be no other way.
A major problem is transportation. If you live in the northern part of the island to get into St, George will cost you about $8XCD Then if you needed to work by the resorts it would be another $2.50. So let's just say to get to work is $10 and then $10 to get home. If you work five shifts a week that is $200XCD a month! So between 20-30% of your income goes to just getting to work.
And then there is the time you need to get to work and when you get home. Many people are up at 4:00 a.m.so they can be on a bus at 6:00 or 6:30. The problem is that buses really are not public transportation. They are operated by private citizens who are regulated by how much they can charge a passenger but can choose their hours and their routes. Generally speaking, the buses do not run in the country side much past 6:30 or 7:00 p.m. So if you have a shift that ends at 10:00 p.m. finding a way home is very difficult. The hotels do have shuttles that take people part of the way, but often this leaves a half hour or hour walk down unlit roads to get home.
For both the people I was speaking to it seemed impossible to make ends meet.
I often hear people say you will never starve in Grenada and it is true, there is fruit everywhere and for a couple of dollars you could buy some bananas, a mango, ginups
To me it seems the biggest obstacle to employment is the cost and timing of transportation. As I was brainstorming ideas on how I could help find work, transportation was always the stumbling block.
That and the wage system here. In Ontario the poverty line is $20,000 or $45,000 XCD, yet most people I know are making $10-15,000 XCD. Yet expenses are extremely similar to living in Ontario.
Except electricity- that is four times higher than living in Ontario at 40 cents a kilowatt hour! So even though we have no furnace, air conditioner, dishwasher, or hot water tank we still pay about $100 Canadian each month for electricity!
I have done the math and none of it adds up. When you ask Grenadians how they do it they almost unanimously they say by the grace of God, and they must be right, because scientifically it doesn't add up.