Tue | Oct 20, 2020

Ronald Thwaites | As we return to work …

Published:Monday | May 25, 2020 | 12:10 AM
A woman enters a Jamaican Urban Transport Company bus at the Half-Way Tree Transport Centre.
A woman enters a Jamaican Urban Transport Company bus at the Half-Way Tree Transport Centre.

CHECK THE daily human interest stories in the press. Invariably, the tale is of a mother at her wits’ end and a child, or children, in distress. Illness, fire-burn, crime victim or hungry-poor are the causes of peril. Pressure is always borne by the single mothers. Seldom, if ever, is there a reference to a father. Ask yourself, can you build a stable post-COVID-19 society and economy on weak families?

Last week, the press was full of the family contradictions which have been normalised in Jamaica. The now-unemployed woman, stressed at the best of times, begging help for the daughter with multiple health challenges. Another with the blessing of multiple twins and other kids, strung out, lacking support from absent fathers. Vainly, she hopes the State can help. “The likkle 10 grand done before mi get it.” Thank God for private charity.

Then there was the video clip of a father with twin sons, on the Falmouth seafront, waiting for a seafaring mother to be reunited. I admire him. He said that while she is away, and since there is no school, he carries the boys with him to work. A tradesman, he balances productivity with parenting. Right now, we need intentional policy which promotes that tandem.

In that effort, please do not try any longer to avoid the huge, crucial issue of why, still so often, fathers are not around to bear their share of parental responsibilities. Because that, in all its social and economic causation, is the big, crippling remnant of mental slavery.

Then there was Dr Shani Roper’s letter in the press, enjoining all of us that if we want economic recovery to work side by side with health concerns, the Government, everybody, had better include childcare in our planning.

She is right. The extended family, the big yard, the ‘mind-the-pickney for-mi’ culture is much weaker than before. If fathers aren’t around and mothers must go back to their jobs or hustling, childcare becomes an essential link in economic reflation. Here is the occasion for flexi-work arrangements to really help.

Could the Ministry of Health and Wellness quickly develop conditions for day care and basic schools to reopen this June to coincide with the back-to-work regimen? Teachers and caregivers in these centres have been without work and mostly without their usual pittance for more than two months, so should be anxious to start back.

And when working out the guidelines, please bear in mind that there has been very little social distancing among children and young people when at home for long periods. In fact, proper hygiene, not to mention nutrition, are more likely in a well-run school than in a poorly supervised home situation.


For primary-age students, churches and community organisations should be encouraged and assisted to sponsor day camps, this year, not just as a place to park children and for them to have fun, but as a unique and precious opportunity for stimulation and social education.

So then, this is no time for laziness about what it will take to get back to work with renewed purpose. In education, there is no time to ease up for the summer. July and August this year are the only catch-up months we have, COVID-19 permitting.

Settling the matter of the CXC exams has shown flexibility and good sense on the Government’s part. Now, the society must attend to the needs of the rest of our children, their working parents and teachers.

Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.