Friday, May 8, 2015

Visit to King's House with Champion Household Workers

Excerpt - Jamaica Observer column for MON May 4 2015 by Jean Lowrie-Chin
Governor General Sir Patrick Allen gives a firm handshake to Gilroy Graham (left), General Manager, Grace Foods & Services Company,  during a courtesy call paid by the 2014 Grace-Kennedy Heather Little-White Household Workers Awards winners, senior GraceKennedy representatives and members of the competition’s adjudication panel on April 30. Looking on, from right, are: Elaine Duncan, first place winner, Mervelyn Brown, second place winner and  Edward McGowan, third place winner of the Awards. Nominations for this year’s competition will close on May 15. The GraceKennedy Group introduced the  Household Worker of the Year Award in 2014, to recognize the contribution of  Jamaica’s finest household workers, as well as to honour the memory of Heather Little-White, the late Jamaican food and nutrition specialist who championed the upliftment of Jamaican household workers throughout her lifetime.

It was a glorious morning when top household workers headed to King’s House last Thursday for a courtesy call with the Governor General.  Elaine Duncan, Mervelyn Brown and Edward McGowan were honoured last year in the GraceKennedy/Heather Little-White Inaugural Household Workers Championship based on criteria including budgetary skills, time management and community involvement.

As one of the judges in the selection, I have to admit that I was moved to tears when I heard their stories of courage and perseverance.  Sir Patrick was no less impressed as Elaine Duncan explained that her employer described her as “no ordinary housekeeper.”  The articulate Ms Duncan explained, 

The Champions, with Nicola Lawson (r), Vice President of the 14,000 strong Jamaica Household Workers Union

“I not only do the regular housework but I also do her banking and other duties on the road”. 
First runner up Mervelyn Brown told the GG that she enjoyed gardening in addition to her household duties and had been employed to the same family for 25 years.  Edward McGowan, the only male in the group, said he had started out as a gardener and handyman but in the apartment complex where he works, his skills in washing, ironing and baby-sitting were quickly recognized and he says “I enjoy doing it all”.

Sir Patrick shared a story of a celebrated organist who acknowledged the wide applause of his audience as he stepped on the stage but when he sat at his instrument, he got no sound.  The GG explained that this organ depended on an individual in the back room who would operate a pump and when the musician checked to see what was going on, the annoyed operator said he should receive some acknowledgement as well. The GG compared this to the outstanding workers in our homes and at King’s House, working in the background to help us function efficiently.

“Whenever anyone compliments me and Lady Allen about the well-kept grounds or the orderly state of King’s House, we are quick to point out that the praise belongs to our dedicated staff,” he assured us.

The Vice-President of the Household Workers Union Nicola Lawson, explained to the GG that they had a very active organization which conducted training programmes in such areas as public speaking and social media, one of the initiatives of their President, Shirley Pryce who was currently doing post-graduate studies in the US. 

One of the judges for the Household Worker of the Year Executive Chef Maisie Miller told the GG that it was an initiative of the late Dr. Heather Little-White that resulted in the certified training of household workers and that these certificates assisted many to source jobs not only in Jamaica but also overseas. Thus the household worker’s award was named in her honour.

Another judge, Dr. Glenda Simms observed that there were some 58,000 household workers in Jamaica, one of the single largest group of workers. The GG remarked that they were indeed unsung heroes who provide invaluable service for Jamaican families, and said he was pleased that the Household Workers Union had such excellent developmental programmes.  

On our way out of King’s House the champions said how honoured they felt when the GG treated them with so much respect and were indeed blessed to have such a warm and approachable GG. 
“We are all one Jamaica,” said Sir Patrick, as he congratulated the champions. “Everyone plays an equally important part.” 

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