Ernesta Williams still feels at home on Applewhaites Plantation. (Picture by Reco Moore.)
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Ernesta Williams grew up on Applewhaites Plantation.
Not literally, but many of her childhood memories were made there; and her very first job as a sugar worker, the one she still has today, was at the plantation in Applewhaites, St Thomas.
“I started the industry when my child father was working and he asked to come help him cut down the canes with him so he would make more money. Every day when he did the cane plant, when he came home he would pay me for the work that I did,” Williams said.
“The boss man saw that I was doing a good job and he asked me if I wanted to be put in the book and earning my own salary, and that’s how I got into it. And I was doing it from then.”
But even before that, Williams, now 57, was around the plantation, starting from very early while tagging along with her mother. Rich history
“Both my parents worked on this plantation. Whenever vacation came around, my mother would tell me, ‘Come Ernesta, you’re going with me because you’re real hard ears’. So whenever I got vacation I would go with her and help out. I have a rich history on this plantation,” she added.
Now, 24 years later, Williams is still loving it on the plantation. And she even has some of her sons working alongside her, making it a family affair.
She plants canes and also assists in their cutting. She also plants onions, carrots, yams, sweet potatoes and other vegetables.
“It’s been going pretty good and I’m loving it. Doing this helped me to get a lot of things in my house, for sure. One of my sons drives the tractor and the youngest one works on the plantation as well. Their father got them the jobs here, and they love it,” the mother of six said.
And for her hard work and diligence, she is now being rewarded. Williams is the 2018 Outstanding Sugar Worker Female honouree. It was through an initiative implemented by the National Cultural Foundation last year.
She was elated that her hard work was finally being recognised.
“I feel great and blessed to be rewarded for my hard work. When I first heard, I ran and told the guy who I was working with that I was awarded. I was in the yard selling peas. I was really excited; I had to tell someone but I told him not to advertise it. Then when my boss came in, I told him and he told me he was really happy for me. So it’s a really good feeling,”
Williams said she could see herself in the industry for a long time to come, even though it was dominated by men. She added there was a lot of room for young women, though she wasn’t sure many of them were interested.
“A lot of men are in it; very few females are in it. Right now, we have nine women working here. A lot have resigned and gone home. No younger women are coming in and I don’t feel any of them are going to come into it either. They are going to tell you the sun is too hot and they won’t want to do the hard work.
“There’s room for them though. If they put their mind to it, they will get it done,” she explained.
Williams said she had observed the sugar industry changing over her 24 years, but was hoping it would continue to survive.
“The industry has changed a lot; things are a lot harder and the sun is hotter. The money is smaller for the work that you’re doing as well. In order to get extra money, you have to get a lot of extra work. When you’re doing day work, you don’t really get much money, so things aren’t really what it used to be.” (DB)