As we celebrate Christmas today, it is time for reflection on the year that is about to end. This year, however, we celebrate Christmas against the backdrop of the 2019 Budget that was just passed by the Government using its one-seat majority in Parliament and, shortly thereafter, the collapse of Government with the no-confidence motion filed by Guyana’s Opposition Peoples Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) being successful. Despite the looming of fresh elections in the first quarter of 2019, this has not dampened the spirits of Guyanese, as had been anticipated by many.
Today is Christmas – the birthday of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem over two millennia ago. The narrative of his birth is very important for us today, and not only because the religion founded in his name is easily the largest and most widespread among the seven billion or so humans on planet Earth today, but for the message encapsulated in his life.
Born in a manger among the domesticated animals kept there, the baby Jesus was of humble stock, since his nominal father, Joseph, was a carpenter. Joseph was made the Patron Saint of Workers by the Catholic and even some protestant denominations, while Jesus ministered mostly to the poor during his sojourn on earth. In the Bible it is written: “When he (Jesus) came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.”
In a world of increasing inequality, Jesus’s message is very apropos on this day. Even though named after him, many will be hosting sumptuous feasts even as thousands of our brothers and sisters in the sugar belt wonder where the next meal will come from.
This newspaper carried a story in which a 25-year-old mother of four was quoted as saying, “Sometimes my children wake up in the night hungry and all I can do is cry. Right now, I need a lot of help. I am punishing a lot, because it isn’t easy to raise four children without a job”. She and her 35-year-old husband were former workers at the Skeldon sugar estate, which has been closed.
No mother or father can bear the cries of hunger from their children. Those cries are daggers to the heart, which worsens when there is no means to offer them a morsel. Her heart-shattering story is just a microcosm of the harsh and cruel reality hundreds of sugar workers are now forced to endure following the closure of some estates over the past two years. That reality may not have fully resonated or been understood by others, and maybe by those who made the decision to shut the estates. It’s similar for others like her and for the fathers who become emasculated in such circumstances. That reality has telling effects on the mental state of those affected. Enduring that daily exacerbates that very troubling mindset and the seeming hopeless situation.
The people across the entire sugar belt face more than a bleak future, as they many have been unemployed for as much as two years. Even before the decision was taken, families pleaded for it not to be implemented over fear of the devastating impact it would have on their lives and on thousands more who are indirectly affected.
Today, as we celebrate Christmas, let us remember and help those who are poor and those who were plunged into poverty because of unemployment.