Help for little girl with special needs
From left, founder of James & Friends Education Programme, Otis James; Tessita Johnson; her momand front-line health-care worker Tosita Cameron; and Roniqueca McFarlane, office administrator atNational Self Serve Wholesale.

MAY PEN, Clarendon — Tosita Cameron has been a community health aide for the past 18 years. For the last seven, as she worked alongside her peers through outbreaks of dengue fever, chikungunya, Zika and the novel coronavirus, she has also had to balance caring for her young daughter Tessita Johnson who has Down Syndrome.

Now the 45-year-old single mother who has spent so many years taking care of others is getting some much-needed support.

Well aware that there are days when Cameron finds it hard to make ends meet, a relative reached out to James and Friends Education Programme to get her some help.

For the next six years, the programme will cover Tessita's school fees, groceries and snacks. The good deed has been valued at $1.2 million.

“There is no reason for her not to be in school because she is fully covered for the next six years,” said Stephen Liao, one of the major sponsors of the 17-year-old foundation.

The group was spurred into action, he said, after receiving a letter from Cameron's sister.

“When I reviewed it, I realised that as a nurse [she had] to be working so hard during COVID, sometimes even on a Sunday. So I met with the team and we decided that we would do this,” the programme's founder, Otis James, told the Jamaica Observer.

The groceries are being supplied by National Self Serve Wholesale, and office administrator Roniqueca McFarlane said the company is happy to help.

“It's always a pleasure to give back. We have this nurse here with her daughter who is a special needs child and we realised there is a genuine need. She needs assistance to get some school supplies, food and snacks. I am elated to be a part of this gesture because in these COVID times things are hard and it's very tough to make ends meet,” said McFarlane.

“She's one of the front-line staff, risking her life on a daily basis especially [during] the pandemic right now. So this is just our way of showing our gratitude,” she added.

A grateful Cameron said she really needed a helping hand.

“Sometimes… there are certain priorities that are not set for us and there are days when we go beyond the call of duty. Just like everybody else working for a salary, we have our children and our needs too. I am grateful for this because I believe each one can reach one. …This really says a lot because I am really in need,” she explained.

Her family has been supportive, she said, helping her cope with the daily struggles of balancing a demanding career and a child with special needs.

“They know the drive that I have for my work and the zeal and the passion, so they are always there. There is a saying that goes, 'It takes a village to care for a child'. I have that. There are times I go out at eight in the morning and I don't reach home until eight in the night. But when I go home, she is well taken care of because my sisters love her. When I'm out there giving back to the country and the community, they are there taking care of her so I don't worry,” Cameron said.

“It has been hard but with God, my community, the church and my family, it makes it a bit easier because she is my only child. It has been really hard being a single parent with a child with a disability and having to juggle work and care for her. It has been stressful at times but it is the strength of a mother within me that helps me through this. There are many times I have to put her needs before mine to ensure she gets all the care that she needs,” she added.

She admitted to the constant worry that the nature of her job puts her child at risk of contracting COVID-19. But, like so many of her peers, she pushes past the fear.

“If we don't do it, who will? Who will care for the nation? We as health workers have to be extra-careful. Each morning we get up it's a new day and what we do is follow the protocols and do what is necessary for the protection of ourselves, our families and the persons we come in contact with,” she said, adding that the love and passion for her job keep her going.

“Being in the system for 18 years, it naturally grows on you; it is love. Even in the morning when we get up it has to be the love for us to really go out there. Remember we're human beings just the same. Some days we go out we are abused, but it's the passion and the zeal that we have for community, self and the country, that is what drives us,” Cameron said.

Tosita Cameron (right) and her daughter, Tessita Johnson, getting groceries at National Self ServeWholesale.

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