'Farm work programme changed my life'
TWO YEARS ago, 'Brother B' was struggling to care for himself, his mother, and younger siblings in the tough St Andrew community of Papine.
"The financial opportunities were not there for us. We were basically struggling hand-to-mouth," the 23-year-old recalled yesterday.
Now, after one stint on the Canadian farm work programme last year, Brother B says there has been a "tremendous difference", and he is now taking steps to build his own home.
The soft-spoken young man said already, he has begun surveying properties with a view to purchasing his own piece of land.
"I'm getting ready to purchase materials to build my own home. I can send the kids (siblings) to school. So it (the farm work programme) is very beneficial to anybody who takes part in it as long as yuh have yuh head on yuh body," he insisted.
Brother B was among 340 men selected for the Canadian Seasonal Agricultural Workers' Programme who departed the island yesterday on two chartered flights destined for Toronto, Canada. They will be employed in greenhouse crop production, food processing, and tobacco plants, as well as nurseries used for the cultivation of peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, and cucumbers.
Seeking to underscore the impact of the programme, Labour Minister Derrick Kellier revealed that the Jamaican economy got a boost of CDN$15.5 million, or approximately J$1.7 billion, in remittances last year. In addition, Kellier said 7,952 Jamaicans - 90 per cent of whom were farm workers - benefited from employment opportunities in Canada last year.
"The farm work programme belongs to all Jamaicans. It benefits the entire country, and the statistics are proof of its value," Kellier said yesterday during a send-off ceremony for the farm workers at his ministry's downtown Kingston offices.
Kellier pointed out that 272 of the men in the group were returnees requested by previous employers, while 68 were first-time participants in the programme. He said this was testament to the hard work of previous participants.
"I am imploring this current cohort to continue being professional while on the job so that the programme can be expanded to provide opportunities for more unemployed Jamaicans," the labour minister said.
Brother B said despite the harsh winter conditions in Canada at this time of the year, he has not been asked to work in inhumane conditions.
"Once you get inside the greenhouses, it's warm and conducive to work. So are the barracks because we have heaters in there and there are adequate facilities," he disclosed.
Brother B said when he returns to Jamaica in August, he hopes to begin construction on his home while making some investments.
"I would also like to go back to school," he said.