PSW in northern Ontario feeling the strain of isolation from family and culture

A personal support worker living in Charlton, a community of 686 near New Liskeard, is facing more than the usual challenges during this pandemic.

Olivia Thomas is hoping that her mother in Ghana can soon join her to help with childcare

Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada considers front-line healthcare workers to play a critical role in keeping Canadians healthy. In the case of a personal support worker in Charlton, that has eased the way for Olivia Thomas' mother to join her from Ghana to provide child-care. (Agustin Marcarian/Reuters)

A personal support worker living in Charlton, a community of 686 near New Liskeard, is facing more than the usual challenges during this pandemic.

Olivia Thomas, originally from Ghana, is a permanent resident in Canada, an essential worker in a remote area, and a mother with two small children, ages two and three-and-a-half. 

Currently, a 13-year-old stepdaughter is babysitting the kids, nearly full-time as both Thomas and her husband, who provides patient transport, work busy schedules..

"Sometimes I have to pay her to watch the kids, which is really very stressful for me and for her because she's just a kid herself," Thomas said.

"My mother-in-law, she's sick, but sometimes she volunteers to come watch my kids but she's really not that healthy. And that's how we've been managing...whenever my husband and I are both working on the same day."

Thomas, originally from Ghana, is a personal support worker in Charlton, ON. (Supplied/Olivia Amankwah Thomas)

Thomas is trying to get her mother in Ghana to join her in the small town to help out.

The Canadian government has given written authorization to exempt Thomas' mother from Canadian travel restrictions considering her daughter is a front-line health care worker.

But the pandemic itself is interfering with the mother and child reunion.

Canadian immigration officials said that visa papers for her mother were sent in May.

In a statement from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, a spokesperson says her mother's passport was sent to the visa application centre in Accra to obtain her visa. Unfortunately, the application centre was closed due to the COVID19 pandemic and her application could not be finalized.

It re-opened earlier this month, and Thomas says her mother received her passport this week, after weeks of uncertainty.

Added to the difficulties of having her family stranded back in Ghana, Thomas said the isolation of the remote community is wearing on her.

"Sometimes I cry because I'm the only Black woman here in this area and I don't get to speak my home language with anybody except myself and my young kids who are learning to talk properly," Thomas said.

"You need somebody, even if your family members are near, you can get to talk about your culture and make some comparisons and some differences and it's going to make people happy."

Thomas says flights from Ghana have been booked and her mother is now scheduled to arrive on July 1st, Canada Day, if all goes well.



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