Every year millions of dollars worth of items are shipped to Jamaica in brown fiber or blue plastic containers used to send material support to family especially children back home. These barrels usually contain food, clothing, school supplies and items that can be sold to help support the family.
In fact, it has become a requirement for family members who are living and working abroad to send down a barrel or two on a yearly basis – especially during the Christmas, New Year and summer holiday seasons. It has become a tradition that Jamaicans take very seriously as it symbolizes the love and connection between the sender and receivers. Multiple vlogs and packing guides are available to the uninitiated barrel sender. Here is one such barrel-packing guide:
Migration And Its Effects
Most Jamaicans migrate to the United States, Canada, or United Kingdom to find a job due to the high unemployment rate, lack of opportunities and low wages in Jamaica. They normally leave with the intention of sending for their children after they have satisfied the legal, financial, and immigration requirements, a process that usually takes 5 or 10 years to complete. During this time, the child may never see (in person) their mother or father again expect on social media calling apps like Whatapps or Facebook Messenger.
This trend however, as reported by Melissa Noel, author of the article: Jamaica’s ‘barrel children’ often come up empty with a parent abroad, is having a negative emotional impact on children – so deep it lasts a lifetime.
Children like Lejeane whose parents move abroad, most likely for work, are often referred to as “barrel children,” after the circular brown fiber or blue plastic shipping containers used to send material support to those that are back home. However, what can’t be shipped in these containers and is therefore missing from the lives of these children, is emotional nurturance. -Melissa Noel
Lejeane, one of the barrel child interviewed by Melissa, father moved to Canada for a job opportunity when he was 7, leaving him behind in Jamaica. For this young child, life has not been the same since that day.
I remember that he migrated when my baby brother was just born, and it affected me in a way because the only way I can contact him or see him is over the phone. I do good in school and I want to be a lawyer but I don’t know if my dad knows that. He don’t really keep up with me anymore. -Lejeane
Melissa also spoke with Dr. Crawford-Brown, a lecturer at the University of The West Indies, Mona Campus who has been studying the topic of Barrel Children and the psychological and emotional effect it has on them for over 30 years.
It’s not every stage you can leave a child, especially in early childhood when their personality and a parent-child bond is in development. You have deep psychological reactions and they revolve around feelings of worthlessness, sadness, feeling that they’re not worth something … that pain can last a lifetime. -Dr. Crawford-Brown
According to Dr. Crawford-Brown, feelings of abandonment and depression can lead to behavior problems such as running away from home, turning to drugs and alcohol or sometimes engaging in violence. These feelings can also lead to acting out in school and poor academic performance.
In speaking to Clinical Psychologist Dr. Audrey Pottinger she pointed out that the issue is not just parent and child. It’s also a societal issue as well. According to a 2005 comparative study Dr. Pottinger published in the Journal of Children’s Issues Coalition, children whose parents died, tended to fare better than those who were estranged from parents due to migration or parental separation (i.e. divorce).
I was actually surprised when I found that because I thought death is so permanent that, that should have had more of the impact, but when I looked into it and tried to explain it, I realized death is acknowledged, death is supported. – Dr. Pottinger
Do you have a barrel child back home or thinking about leaving your family to take up a job overseas? Before you do, think about the impact your decision might have on the health and well-being of your child psychologically and emotionally and the wider impact that might have on the already degraded society present in Jamaica. Is it worth it?
The original story was posted on NCBBLK by author Melissa Noel. She reported this story with the support of the International Center For Journalists ‘Bringing Home The World International Reporting Fellowship’, The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and the Dennis A. Hunt Fund for Health Journalism, a program of the University of Southern California Center for Health Journalism.