BY SARA MILLER
Imagine leaving your family and loved ones behind to work in a foreign country only for all your hard work to burn up in flames in an instant. For thirty-two Jamaican seasonal workers in Brant County, Ontario, this nightmare is all too real. On Thursday July 28th, the group of workers watched helplessly as a raging fire destroyed their bunkhouse located on Chary Farms. Lost in the inferno was everything they owned including passports, immigration documents, money as well personal items such as wedding rings and photos. The only items they were left with was the clothing on their backs.
For months, the workers spent nearly all their waking hours working and gathering food and items to send back home to their families in Jamaica. They made care packages, filled with goods such as clothing and power tools. Also included in the packages were food items such as bags of flour, rice and non-perishable items.
But like everything else, they were lost in the fire as well.
Struggling to deal and cope with the trauma the fire has caused, many of the men only have one desire: to return back to Jamaica and their families. Unfortunately, without any documents or passports, the likelihood of this happening is just not possible at this time. However, through the kindness of the local neighborhood as well as the family of Chary Farms, many of the workers have been sheltered in motels for the time being. The local Salvation Army has also been forthcoming, allowing the workers to gather immediate necessities from the thrift shop such as clothing and pots and pans for cooking. They are also acting as the local drop off for donations for the men.
When news of the misfortune reached the Jamaican Canadian Association in Toronto, JCA President Adaoma Patterson, Director-at-large, Yolande Davidson and Director of Communications, Alton Brooks travelled with past JCA presidents Audrey Campbell, Herman Stewart and Roy Williams as well as JCA members Grace Williams and Andrea Jarrett to Brant County to meet the affected workers. Present on the trip was a collection of donations that were given by community members as well as a large donation of essential food items such as rice and flour from the Sai Dham Food Bank in Malton.
Workers from the group, eager to share their stories but not their identities, candidly spoke to the JCA about their thoughts and feelings about the fire that took everything away from them. One of the workers who went by the pseudonym name of Mr. Kingston, has been working on the farm for a few years. A single father of two children, Kingston travelled to Canada to work on the farm due to the instability of the workforce that has gripped the country of Jamaica in recent times. Describing what went through his mind at the time, Kingston was in absolute disbelief after he found out he had lost everything but was very grateful when he found out that the JCA traveled two hours just to talk and see them.
“I had to make sure and come for myself and see. We are so grateful to the JCA and the community for rallying around us. That other people would care about strangers like us”.
Another man from Clarendon was just grateful that personal possessions were the only things that were lost in the fire. With three children and a wife waiting for him in Jamaica, he was eager to send the money he was saving up back home to build a house for his family. But now, those savings are completely gone.
As the old Jamaican proverb goes: “One, one cocoa fill basket”. A contribution of any amount is enough to make a positive impact on the lives of each worker. With the support of the retailer Giant Tiger who has donated an allotment of gift cards, the JCA is asking the Caribbean community to lend a hand in helping the thirty-two workers get back on their feet and leave the country in October.
“The men who travel from Jamaica and other countries each year to pick our produce, work extremely hard seven days per week. They do work Canadians
won’t do, leaving their families behind for most of the year to live in conditions we cannot imagine for a country as wealthy as ours,” said JCA President Adaoma Patterson.
“This visit and small support reinforced JCA’s commitment to focus on advocacy, shine a light on how issues impact our communities and push for changes.”
To make a donation via online banking, please send a money transfer to the address firstname.lastname@example.org using the password: FARMWORKERS. To make a donation via credit card, cheque, cash or mail, donations can be dropped off in person at the Jamaican Canadian Association located at 995 Arrow Road, Toronto, Ontario M9M 2Z5.