Dedication to her work over the last three and a half decades, despite having to cope with a life-threatening illness in more recent years, has paid off for 61-year-old Marcia Padmore, who recently became the first winner of the Barbados Workers Union’s Domestic Worker of the Year Award.
In an interview with Barbados TODAY, Marcia, who is the mother of well-known comedian and Public Relations Officer with the Sanitation Service Authority, Carl “Alff” Padmore, said she regularly attended the union’s annual conference, but never expected to receive an honour at the event.
“I normally go to the conference, but I usually go later in the day because you have to sit down for a long time. On my way there, Carl called me twice and [said] ‘The lady is waiting on you here’. So when he called the second time I got somewhat nervous. When I arrived at Solidarity House, the lady Carl spoke about didn’t even give me any time, and I got suspicious when I saw two young ladies all dressed up. Then I saw the fruit baskets, and I asked ‘Am I in this thing?’ Then when they called the two young ladies and then called me, I was like ‘For real?’ I was in shock, it took about two days to settle in!”
She stated that unknown to her, two of her employers had written to the BWU recommending her for recognition. “The letters they wrote said, ‘We know you deserve it; you go out of your way to do things for us even when you are not at work’. Sometimes the employees become like your family, and you can become like a second mother to the children. For example, with my current employers, I was looking after their son from the time he was two and next month he will be eleven. His sister was four [when I started work there] and she will soon be 15”.
Marcia said she started working in the agricultural industry piling sugar cane and picking cotton, but she also worked in a garment factory, where she was first exposed to union activities.
“I was working at Opelika Garment Factory by the airport, and we worked for $60 a week. Then one day the girls went on strike because that was not enough money. Everyone came out, including Bobby Clarke and [the late political activist] Eric Sealy, and we marched. Following that action, we ended up getting $100 a week.”
She said there were about 30 domestics currently involved in the BWU, and that joining the union was a good idea, since “these workers often get victimized. Now, I am a person that speaks out, and if I see something going wrong I would say something, and leave if necessary. The union also hosts workshops to teach you how to respect your employer and that your employer should respect you. We have attended workshops with domestics from Jamaica and other islands in the region as well.”
Over the last eight years, Marcia has faced health challenges but has managed to stay strong in the midst of them.
“I was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer in June 2010, and the doctor told me I had a year to live. I remember one evening shortly after I was diagnosed, I was lying in my bedroom saying to myself, ‘If I die, I will die here’, but then the voice of God spoke to me and told me, ‘You will not die’, so I got up. I had two rounds of chemotherapy back then, and the illness went into remission for six years after that. It was some time last year [that] people told me my eyes were looking yellow or red, and an iridologist who had a table set up at Sky Mall examined me and confirmed that the disease had returned.”
She said she now has to get chemotherapy every three months, along with physiotherapy since the treatments leave her legs feeling “wobbly”, but she is grateful for the support she has received and offered some counsel for people who may be going through similar health issues.
“I would tell anyone who has cancer not to listen to any stupidness people will tell them, because that may only cause additional stress and make you feel worse. Some patients are afraid to talk about their illness because they do not know how others will respond. We still have situations where people scorn you if you tell them you have cancer or HIV even though there are some who live with these conditions for years and you cannot catch these diseases ‘just so.’ It is important you have a good support network around you because that really helps you to get through it,” Marcia concluded.