Young Jamaican student wins union scholarship

Seven-year-old Jamaica primary school student Jinnell Lewis is both bright and fortunate.

The Grade Two student is one of five winners of the United Food & Commercial Workers Union’s (UFCW) inaugural migrant scholarships.

Nearly 4,000 temporary foreign workers, including close to 900 Jamaicans, applied for the $1,000 scholarships.

Naveen Mehta, the union’s human rights, equity and diversity director, said the selection process was challenging.

“In making the decision, tears came to (the eyes of) a few of (us) because some of the stories were heart-rending,” he said. “We have parents who have been separated from their families for extended periods and young kids who have been forced to live with relatives because one parent is unable to care for them alone.”

Rudolph Lewis, a migrant agricultural worker on a Simcoe farm for the past decade, nominated his daughter.

“We are so proud of Jinnell,” he said. “I also want to thank the Canadian Seasonal Agriculture Workers Program centre in Simcoe for letting me know about the program and for helping us to apply.”

Temporary foreign workers in Canada can nominate their children, grandchildren, sisters, brothers, nieces or nephews between the ages of five and 30 for the awards.

“As the leading advocate for the rights of migrant and temporary workers in Canada, the UFCW Canada family recognizes the importance of empowering educational opportunities for the families of workers who contribute so much to our communities, our union and our country,” said national president Wayne Hanley.

Lewis, who was described by her teacher as “having that spark of excellence”, was the youngest winner while 18-year-old Juan Diego Dominguez of Colombia was the oldest. The other recipients are from the Philippines, Mexico and Guatemala.

Based on the overwhelming response, the scholarship program has been expanded to 20 awards each worth $500.

The submission deadline is December 31, 2011. Applications can be submitted online at

There are close to 9,000 Jamaicans in the temporary foreign worker program that comprises high and low-skilled employees, live-in caregivers and seasonal agricultural workers.

Jamaica was the first country to dispatch migrants to work in Canada under the seasonal agricultural workers program in 1966. A total of 264 men made up the first batch. Other English-speaking Caribbean countries joined the following year and the program was extended to Mexico in 1974.

Almost eight per cent of Canada’s largest private sector union’s 250,000 members are migrant workers.

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