September 22, 2020

Cayman Islands church minister helps Jamaican migrants in Niagara, Canada


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Alan and Marie-Jane Johnson

A programme to support Jamaican workers is about hospitality, spirituality and fellowship.

For 20 years, members of the Caribbean Workers Outreach Project have tried to make migrant workers, mostly from Jamaica, feel at home in Niagara, Ontario, Canada.

“The idea is that for the first two months, while the men are adjusting to being away from home, we run services each Sunday evening,” said volunteer Alan Johnson, of Virgil.

He said two ministers from Jamaica and the Cayman Islands are brought to Niagara to lead church services and visit with workers.

As well, volunteers provide the men with rides to church services and host musical and cultural activities throughout the summer.

“We’re helping the men,” Johnson said. “It’s spiritual support.”

He said he got involved in the programme after his wife, Marie-Jane, was recruited to help run it in 1997. They’ve been strong supporters ever since.

“We get satisfaction from helping the workers feel comfortable in this country,” he said.

One thing migrant workers have often said over the years is that they feel invisible in Canada.

“Nobody makes eye contact with them,” Johnson said, noting he hears that for many of them it’s getting better.

Jamaica is a very social country, where strangers acknowledge each other in all areas of public life, he said.

Marie-Jane said the programme, which helps bring people together, has built a sense of community among migrant workers in Canada.

The project, an initiative of the United Church of Canada, has expanded over the years to include many churches in the Niagara-on-the-Lake and Lincoln areas.

Johnson said the project started in 1992 after a Jamaican man was killed in Niagara while riding his bike.

“There was a difficulty in trying to inform family back in Jamaica,” he said, noting the incident highlighted the need for supports for migrant workers.

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