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Formalising care work: The options

Wed, 26 Feb 2020 Source: Hannah Awadzi

The preamble

I recently called my Aunt who lives at Agona Swedru, a town in the Central Region, about my need for a domestic worker, what is popularly termed as “House help.”

She said: “Mama, (that’s my pet name at home), you can’t get it, first of all, it is not advisable these days to have a live-in house help, secondly, all the young girls are going to school. Because of the free-SHS policy, everybody is sending his or her child to school.”

My Aunt continued, “these days even the hair-dressers and the dress-makers are struggling to get apprentices, all the children are going to school, free SHS has come,” she stressed.

Funny as it sounded to me, I knew she was saying something that needed to be given a thought not just by me but by the government.

Repercussions of mass education

I thought to myself, okay so when all these young people are able to go into Senior High Schools and assuming they all pass well and go into the Universities, after the university what next?

I foresee a country fraught with a huge unemployment situation because everybody wants a white-collar job. Everybody wants their child to be a Banker or a Politician these days.

Meanwhile, the real areas where jobs are and needed is the vocational skills or the home economics if I may call it that way.

Need for Vocational and Technical skills

I have a cousin who went to school even to the Masters Level because she wanted a “good job”, as fate will have it, she travelled to the United States after her education, few months after settling in the states, I happen to have a chat with her and asked her what she was doing with her life now.

She said, I have gone back to school, I almost shouted, again! But I held myself to listen to what follows and she said I am learning professional caregiving so that I can work in an aged home or care for children with disabilities.

That is the work my cousin is currently doing in the states and she talks about it fondly, she loves her job, even though it is draining, she said when we talked the other time.

There are many Ghanaians and Africans for that matter who will do everything, take courses, learn and do whatever it takes to get a job as a caregiver in the United States, United Kingdom or any of the developed countries.

Back home in Ghana, people will shun this same job for whatever reason, I can’t point to.

Experiences

I remember about four or five years ago, I employed a lady in her 30s as a domestic worker in my home, our contract included; accommodating and feeding her in addition to paying her GHC 200 a month, this was five years ago.

This Lady’s duties included bathing two children morning and evening, helping feed them and making sure the home was tidy, however, and I ended up doing most of her duties because she was always complaining of a headache or abdominal pains.

I paid her hospital bills because she lived with us, in addition to all this, this lady could actually change the TV channel when I was watching TV with my husband in the living room because she wanted to watch telenovela.

Yet, the general advice from the populace is simple: “treat your house help well, otherwise when you live your children with her, she will maltreat them.”

Current Options

Over time, I stopped engaging domestic workers who came in to live with me in my house, they posed for me more challenges than I could imagine.

Now I usually engage graduates with degrees in Social work or rehabilitation studies or I engage undergraduates who want to have some work experience with children with disabilities.

I usually sign a contract with them spelling out the dos and don’ts and also their entitlements including; allowances for doing the job, even though that tends to be a little bit expensive on the surface, it gives me so much peace and less challenges.

Role of Care work

Care work involves looking after the physical, psychological, emotional and developmental needs of one or more other people, and this can be looked at as a profession.

Care workers find themselves not only working in hospitals but also in schools, in churches, in homes and in public places in general, where people might need help in terms of care.

I have a Dutch friend who works as a physiotherapist and does it in homes, works with the families and have her work sessions with the families she cared for in the comfort of their homes.

She loves her job so much that when she retired she decided to visit African countries and help teach and train families that care for children with disabilities.

I also have a Facebook friend, whose job is to sit in for busy families and take care of their children, whether children with disabilities or not, she loves this so much and is always talking about her job and her love for the children she cares for on Facebook.

Menial Job?

That is why I believe that there is nothing like a menial job, as long as you are doing something that serves mankind you are doing something and if you earn an income for it, it is a profession.

Come to think of it, these domestic workers do not pay taxes and are usually seen as poor, but to me their conditions of services, which usually ensure accommodation and food is much better than many formal jobs.

Unemployment will not become a challenge if we learn to value all these kinds of skills and vocations, let’s start to think about formalising the informal sector jobs, because to me, its impact on the economy is huge.

Columnist: Hannah Awadzi