Sunday 7 June, 2020

Life interrupted: Caribbean men speak on the effects of COVID-19

Dr Aaron Smith

Dr Aaron Smith

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be as widespread as it is varied.

We’ve chatted with children who have expressed their frustration over being stuck at home, deprived of the opportunity to interact with their peers.

With their children at home all day, every day (in most cases) some parents are finding it difficult to strike a balance between work and familial responsibilities.

After job loss and wage cuts many are struggling to make ends meet.

Many, regardless of age, social class or gender, appear to be burdened by the uncertainty of the situation.

Meanwhile the United Nations has warned that a global mental health crisis is looming and urged the international community to do much more to protect those facing mounting mental pressures.

This led us to wondering, how are Caribbean men being affected by the pandemic? What, if any coping mechanisms have they put in place to help them deal with the increased stress?

We set out on a mission to find out.

Shawn Maile is an Industrial Relations professional and an entrepreneur with tourism-based businesses in Antigua and Barbuda.

He told Loop when he first started hearing about the virus back in January he didn’t pay much attention. Like countless others, he didn’t think it would make its way to the Caribbean.

That soon changed.

Shawn said never in his wildest dreams, could he have imagined that it would come to the level of chaos and pandemonium currently being experienced.

As the only person in his household who is currently employed, he is concerned.

Shawn Maile, Antigua and Barbuda

“Mentally it’s been taxing because I keep thinking every day that it could be the day that I or someone in my household starts developing symptoms and then we really have to start worrying. A few persons have died here due to the virus and there have also been some unexplained sudden deaths as well so there is cause for concern. Some days I am fearful that I might be the one that brings the virus home, as the rest of my family works in the hotel industry and have been at home since early March. I had a family member overseas who contracted the virus so that was a scary moment for my family but luckily they’re recovering."

Shawn said he is always on high alert and finds himself going to extraordinary lengths to protect himself and his family from contracting the virus.

"It’s almost as if I have to police my actions and those of everyone all around me just to be safe. I never thought I’d see the day where I’d have to line up and wash my hands just to go into a grocery store. Or the day where something routine like going to the beach or the barbershop is forbidden. Despite the anxiety and uncertainty of the times I’m embracing each day and enjoying it. I was able to help out my grandfather on his farm, helping him to prepare to plant crops. I've also taken up a new hobby of bird watching with the local environmental awareness group. All in all I guess I can say its equal parts nerve-wracking and exciting but I sincerely hope that that balance can be maintained. If its one thing that COVID has taught me is that time is precious and life can’t be taken for granted.”

Shawn's tourism based entrepreneurial efforts are at a standstill and many other plans have been interrupted or cancelled altogether because of the pandemic, but he said being alive and healthy are gifts that he embraces daily.

Ahmad is a craftsman who depended on Grenada’s tourism sector to support his family.

He told Loop he feels like his manhood has been stripped away.

Image courtesy Buckaroo/iStock

“I work with my hands making things that I sell to tourist. Tourism dead for now so it doesn’t have anyone for me to sell to. You know what its like to watch your children hungry and not be able to feed them? That’s the only thing on my mind, feeding my children. Some days I skip meals so the children could have more if they want. We not starving exactly, but we have to draw a plan to make sure the food last because we have no extra and we don’t know the situation with this COVID-19 thing.  Most days I just go in the bush from the time the sun start to come up and stay until night time. Sometimes that’s easier than facing them.”

Gavin Charles, a musician and music teacher in St Kitts and Nevis said COVID-19 and its effects are like something out of a movie.

He finds the fluidity of the situation worrying.

He Loop that more than anything, he’s concerned about his daughter’s future.

Gavin Charles with his daughter, St Kitts and Nevis

“It’s like the world was not prepared! Living in a country whose major source of income is Tourism and seeing the closure of the airport and seaport has me worried that life as we knew it is either over or changed forever. With boarders closed there is sure to be a significant dent in our economy which will put our leaders to work on an urgent recovery plan. My biggest fear is that my 5 year old is not getting what is essential to her educational growth at this stage due to her inability to attend school during this pandemic. This forces her mother and me to play the role of pre-school teachers."

In St Kitts and Nevis all classes and formal lessons have been suspended indefinitely.

The government has since introduced remote learning, but Gavin said even this isn't without its challenges.

"The Ministry of Education has since taken the route of online education. This is unfortunately a slow and frustrating process for some especially those who have never been exposed to any kind of online platform before and those who may not be very computer illiterate. Since the beginning I’ve worried about how long the pandemic would last. For the moment my family is comfortable but there is also the fear that it will get worst and possibly out of control. What are we to do then? It’s a crazy and scary situation, our favourite coping mechanism is family entertainment.”

As a front-line worker, Dr Aaron Smith is worried that he could possibly expose his wife and daughter to the virus.

For him, concern started when the virus first started to gain prominence outside of China.

Dr Aaron Smith, Trinidad and Tobago

“Yes, I am a Doctor but I am human and my reaction to the virus and its effects was no different to anyone else. Although, there has been experience in treating other respiratory viruses such as MERS, and SARS, this virus is novel and presents a lot of challenges as it can be spread by asymptomatic persons. The rapid rate at which it has spread around the globe was of great concern. The consolation for me was that although many have died, persons have recovered and are doing well after contracting it. When the first case reached Trinidad and Tobago, I think the reality finally reached home. Initially, I was anxious because the necessary systems had to be put in place along with adequate training to ensure that we were protected from the virus."

Dr Smith said he fully endorses the steps taken by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago to slow the spread of the virus so far.

"The Government and authorities took decisive actions and helped mitigate the spread of the disease so this helped a lot and has made our job easier. Working within the Accident and Emergency Department, we are at the forefront when it comes to initial assessment of patients. Extra precautions had to be instituted especially in seeing patients. Which includes an extremely detailed history from individuals, having many who were not always forth coming with their symptoms and travels, anyone who presented with fever, cough and flu like symptoms are treated with suspicion and separately too. Further precautions come with more paper work but I’m okay with that as I know it’s all part of keeping us safe. I am concerned about transmitting the virus to my family. As a medical professional every day I leave to go to work I am exposed to the virus. However, I take all precautions :washing hands regularly especially after seeing patients, using the personal protective equipment PPE, sanitizing from head to toe before I interact with my family and I continuing to Trust in God daily for his protection as I carry out my function to help mankind during this pandemic.”

He said spending time with his wife and daughter, exercise and connecting with family members online help him deal with COVID-related stress.

Delbert Paris is a Civil Engineer who also works in Construction Management.

He said initially the possibility of contracting the Virus and passing it on to his family members, particularly his 11 month old daughter made him extremely uncomfortable.

Though somewhat pleased with the attempts made by the government of Dominica to slow the spread of the virus, Delbert said what he finds worrying is the economic fallout that is likely to affect the region for many years post-pandemic.

He said the possibility of having to deal with an active hurricane season and COVID-19 simultaneously, is quite troubling.

Delbert Paris, Dominica

He told Loop: “I put a plan of action in place that takes care of the repercussions of the possible economic fall-out that will affect us directly, plans that we have already started to implement, such as income diversification particularly in the area of food production. In Dominica’s SRO- 15 (Statutory Rules and Orders N0.15) construction work was declared an essential service, but a lot of our companies didn’t have the capacity to operate safely and took the decision to temporarily stop operations until we were able to create the right type of environment for our workers. Some of us in management were allowed to work from home, as a-lot of our deliverables do not require us to be onsite full-time.  So while we had to make a few adjustments. We were still able to function, albeit at a reduced capacity.”

Delbert is optimistic that most organisation’s will survive the inevitable COVID-19 economic fallout.

He’s taken advantage of the downtime to increase income-diversification efforts and look towards creating new streams of revenue that are pandemic-proof.

“The online business space particularly in the financial markets, along with food production and manufacture, are two avenues that are very viable. Because I am able to work from home, the need for a coping mechanism wasn’t so necessary, what I’ve found is that I’m able to get so much more done not having to leave home. I have a minimum of 3 online meetings per day. My working hours have been extended, and I spend a lot of time reading and developing skills that otherwise I didn’t take the time to, or didn’t see need for. I’m also thrilled that I get to spend more time with my family.”

Delbert said life has changed but for him, there’s a lot of good coming out of that change.




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