Columns

Our ‘wondrously made’ household workers

Jean LOWRIE-CHIN

Monday, June 02, 2014    

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WE Couldn’t hold back the tears as we interviewed the 11 finalists for the GraceKennedy Heather Little-White Household Worker Award. They were such generous and dignified individuals.

How could someone on a minimum wage volunteer to help the elderly sick like Mervelyn ‘Auntie Doreen’ Brown, nominated by Kayan Clarke? How could a male household worker care for his special needs wife, send his son to college, serve his church, and work several jobs like Edward McGowan, nominated by Samantha Gayle?

How could brilliant Elaine Duncan, nominated by Prof Verene Shepherd, balance the care of her ageing father, a demanding job, church activities, voluntary work with the Household Workers Union, and still manage to complete multiple courses ‘because I want to work like a professional’.

These are the stories of heroism, the untold stories of the 58,000 household workers who undergird the functioning of many Jamaicans in leadership positions. Elaine Duncan copped the top prize, while Mervelyn Brown and Edward McGowan placed second and third respectively. GraceKennedy CEO Don Wehby announced at last Friday’s awards luncheon that the other eight finalists were so outstanding that they had to be declared winners, and were presented also with cash prizes.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, who was guest speaker, paid a moving tribute: “Household workers, mothers of our nation, you are the ones who often hear the first words of our babies…you take care of our homes. The legacy of the past places a great burden and responsibility on you to insist on your rights.

May this function serve as a reminder of how powerful and wondrously made we are, and how we as individuals and within our groups can make a tremendous difference in our lives; the lives of others and our amazing country — Jamaica.” The Champion Household Worker, Elaine Duncan, had the audience in awe with her clear and well-considered reply — this young woman has far to go.

Sometimes it takes that positive nudge for us to stop and think about the quiet folks who are blessings in our lives. When GraceKennedy advertised islandwide for nominees, they received over 100 entries in the space of a few days. The late Dr Heather Little-White, for whom the award is named, had explored the plight of household workers in her doctoral thesis, and conducted training for them.

Although she was not present for the event, Jamaica Household Workers Union (JHWU) President Shirley Pryce was captured on video relating that her colleagues were finally getting the recognition they deserved. PM Simpson Miller singled out Ms Pryce for special recognition: “What manner of woman is this?

A former household worker, she also chairs the Caribbean Domestic Workers network and serves on a number of other boards and committees. In February of this year, Shirley Pryce was one of two newly elected members of the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) as the only Caribbean representative.”

Don Wehby announced that he plans to meet with Shirley Pryce to discuss her vision of a household workers training institute. As we looked at the descriptions of these workers by their employers — veterinarians, technicians, horticulturists, budget managers, menu planners — we can see only good emerging from such an initiative.

PM quotes Maya Angelou Prime Minister Simpson Miller reflected on the rich life and work of the late Maya Angelou at the household workers event and ended with a quote from her famous poem, I Rise, as she encouraged them to follow their aspirations: “Out of the huts of history's shame/ I rise/ Up from a past that's rooted in pain/ I rise…/ Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear/ I rise/ Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,/ I am the dream and the hope of the slave./ I rise. I rise. I rise.”

What an impact this great poet has had on our world. Her majestic presence, her conviction that we were phenomenal, will continue to sustain our self-confidence — read some Maya Angelou to your child today.

Mr Patterson’s plea We have heard the cynical responses to a speech given recently by former PM P J Patterson, bemoaning the moral decline of the nation, but well do we remember those tribalist criticisms of his 1994 launch of the Values and Attitudes campaign, with so many throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater.

But, come on now, my Jamaican people, listen to a man who, like most of us, emerged from humble rural roots and distinguished himself not only as a politician, but also as a legal luminary.

He could have been relaxing on his verandah but chose to take up the case for Veronica Campbell Brown, the result of which saw our beloved VCB back in action in The Bahamas recently. “I categorically refute the notion that the national campaign launch in 1994 achieved nothing,” said Mr Patterson, referring to the establishment of several community and governance initiatives, including JSIF, PATH and the National Contracts Commission.

And then the most important sentence of the speech as he called for ‘probity in public life’: “The absence of a criminal charge or the acquittal from a crime of moral turpitude cannot be the yardstick by which political parties and the electorate measure the suitability of those who seek public office.”

In a discussion about our political leadership on both sides, JFJ Executive Director Kay Osborne noted the saying, “I cannot hear you because your actions are so loud!” Leaders, we are taking stock. We see where your priorities lie by how quickly you can tell your constituents what you are doing about their issues, the persons with whom you consort, and how you use your resources.

Mr Patterson cited a few examples of positive steps to better values and attitudes: PALS, the ‘I Believe’ initiative and the Respect campaign about to be launched by a group of Jamaican corporations. We can either continue to criticise, or we can expend some effort in pulling back our country from the edge of this dangerous precipice.

Talent behind bars

We visited the Horizon Park Remand Centre last Wednesday to view an array of items created by prison inmates throughout Jamaica. Please check my blog to see the excellent products and art. The Commissioner of Corrections Jevene Bent emphasises rehabilitation and reintegration in her programmes for our correctional services.

Kudos also to Deputy Commissioner Joyce Stone and Asst Superintendent L Ferrigon. When you observe the discipline and care of these Jamaicans, it is a call to never give up on anyone, especially those who have paid their debt to society and deserve a second chance.

Hail Ja’s Poet Laureate Mervyn Morris

We learned at his feet at UWI, yet our recently appointed Poet Laureate Mervyn Morris has remained approachable and has been a wonderful mentor to many. In the 70s, I penned a poem My Chinaman Jump to di Riddim of Jah’, which was published in the Daily News. You can imagine how chuffed I was, when he told me that he wished to share it with an audience in the UK! Thank you for that affirmation, Mervyn, and congratulations on this well-deserved laurel.

lowriechin@aim.com www. lowrie — chin.blogspot.com

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