Monday, June 16, 2014

Our ‘wondrously made’ household workers

by Jean Lowrie-Chin (Jamaica Observer column)
We couldn’t hold back the tears as we interviewed the 11 finalists for the GraceKennedy-Heather Little-White Household Worker Award. What stood out in all of them was their generosity and dignity. 
Elaine Duncan -Champion GraceKennedy-HeatherLittleWhite Household Worker of the Year
How could someone on such a modest 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’.
PM Simpson Miller with GraceKennedy CEO Don Wehby (left) and Chair Prof Gordon Shirley
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 we can make a tremendous difference in our lives; the lives of others and our amazing country - Jamaica.”  
GraceKennedy Foundation Chair James Moss-Solomon with Prof Verene Shepherd who had nominated Champion Elaine Duncan.  At right is Lennie Little-White, brother of Dr. Heather Little-White for whom the Trophy is named.
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 (who is a client of ours) 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.
First runner-up Mervelyn Brown, Champion Elaine Duncan, 2nd Runner-Up Edward McGowan are congratulated by GraceKennedy CEO Don Wehby
 Although she was not present for the event, Jamaica Household Workers Union (JHWU) President Shirley Pryce was captured on video elating that her colleagues were finally getting the recognition they deserved. The PM Simpson Miller singled out Ms Pryce for special recognition: “What manner of women 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.

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