Some Norfolk farm workers will not be home for Christmas

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Eighty offshore workers at Schuyler Farms of Simcoe learned in November that their native Trinidad is closed to fresh arrivals until further notice due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The travel restriction includes citizens who work abroad.

Brett Schuyler has taken this development in stride. Schuyler Farms provides its 200-plus offshore workers modern housing with all the amenities. Since the news arrived, he has also ensured the stranded workers have the warm clothing they need to ride out a Canadian winter.

“The guys are not freezing,” Schuyler said. “The guys have winter clothes.

“The way people can help is to show them acts of kindness. They weren’t planning on being here for Christmas.”

On Dec. 11, stranded workers spoke of how they traditionally celebrate Christmas back home and how much they are going to miss their family and friends.

“I’m not that worried,” said Krishendath Harrinarine, a nine-year employee at Schuyler Farms, who comes from Rio Claro, the largest town in southeastern Trinidad. “But I know for a fact my family will be. But I have no problem. We communicate by phone.”

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Christmas is a special time in Trinidad and Tobago much like elsewhere in the world. Felena Pereire, a native of Tabaquite in central Trinidad and an eight-year employee of Schuyler Farms, said Christmas on the multicultural island is a time for family, friends, feasting and other associated festivities.

Pereire said Trinidadians look forward to Christmas as a time when groups of people move from house to house unannounced, often accompanied by acoustic musicians singing folk songs and Christmas carols. In this sense, the Yuletide social scene harks to western traditions of wassailing.

Once she learned that dozens of her countrymen were stranded in Norfolk County until further notice, Pereire put out feelers on social media for surplus Christmas decorations. Pereire has lined up a big evergreen and intends to convert the Schuyler Farms compound on Townsend Road 14 into something bright and colourful.

“I felt it was something we had to do for our co-workers to make them feel special at Christmas,” she said. “Now that we are stuck here, I would hope that people could help make us feel special at Christmas.”

Schuyler is prepared to accommodate as much Christmas as his workers can handle. Surplus decorations are coming in, as are baked goods and fond wishes for a happy holiday.

“I think it’s going to look like Santa’s Village here by time we’re done,” he said.

While his workers will miss friends, family and the fine Caribbean weather, Schuyler said they also see a silver lining.

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For the first time in memory, the affected workers qualify for employment insurance due to circumstances beyond their control. They also don’t regret missing the two-week quarantine they would have to sit out if they returned home and the subsequent two weeks in isolation they would have to serve upon their return to Norfolk County in the spring.

“Some are not all that bummed out about it but then there are some who are,” said Schuyler, adding he knows of about 150 other offshore workers from Trinidad who are hunkered down in Norfolk under similar circumstances.

Those wishing to help dress up the Schuyler property east of Simcoe for the Christmas season can email their suggestions to brett@schuylerfarms.ca .

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