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Pre-school teacher Michelle Charles

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Michelle Charles’ vocation as a pre-school teacher brought her immense joy. She would often say, “I get to be part of building a strong academic foundation in the lives of these young ones.”

But her passion of 28 years came to a sudden halt last year when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, forcing the closure of schools. Now all Charles, 44, has that bears any semblance of a pre-school, are number and word charts that embellish a wall in an area of the house where her lone preschooler is her nephew whom she teaches at the home she now shares with her sister and their seven children.

The single mother told Guardian Media it has been anything but easy.

“I was here alone with my three kids, you know, and there was no way for me of making an income, so you know that was really hard,” she lamented.

To ease her now economic crisis, Charles turned to her mother and sister with a plan to stay afloat.

“She has to go out to work. She’s a nurse, I will take care of the children. I told her, if you move back home I will take care of the children. Mommy will be here and you know, she will buy the food. I would take my mother’s pension, that was the plan…I would take my mother’s pension and I would pay the bill and whatever we have to do, so that is how survived.”

But as the adage—‘when it rains it pours,’ implies, Charles’ plan was short-lived when a sudden death occurred.

“All this time, my mother was like, sick, apparently she was sick, but she didn’t tell me anything. So when she moved back now, that’s when she told me she had endometrial cancer,” she explained.

On April 1, Charles’ mother died, as cancer had reached stage three. Already scrambling to make ends meet, her mother’s passing compounded the situation.

“When she passed now, you know…I mean there’s no more pension, cannot pay the bills. So now I am depending on my sister who is a nurse, to do everything. She has four children and I have three,” Charles said in a discomforted tone.

They have worked out an arrangement, where Charles’ sister pays her $600 monthly to look after and teach both her three and seven-year-old children, but this money is too little to do much of anything Charles said, and with the scant amount she can put towards any needs in the house, her sister was bearing the financial brunt.

“With that money now I pay my internet bill and I pay my cable bill and that’s it. That’s all I can do to put towards the household right now, so she has to take up everything else. She has to take up the light bill, she has to take up food…WASA bill…she has to take up everything.”

Charles said, she even now feels like a burden to her sister.

“I do feel that way. And I do feel like you know…sometimes I do feel like if there is anything I could do to help her, but now that the place just shut down almost completely, what can I do?”

Of her three children, one is attending a nursing degree online class, while the other is preparing for the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) exam and the eldest tries to do some planting to help feed the family whose daily meals have also taken a hit.

“My sister, well, she buys dry goods. She doesn’t buy market, she doesn’t buy meat. That money that I used to get, before, like I said, I used to get my mother’s pension, so that used to go towards the market and buy meat. So right now as we speak there is no meat in the house, so that, there’s just practically rice and peas,” she explained.

Charles said she was also in need of toiletries—mainly personal female items.

“We need things like toilet paper, we need things like sanitary pads and so on like that. You know because it’s two girls I have and you know, that is a challenge for me right now. And I mean, I don’t really want to ask my sister for these things right now, I know it really hard on her, but oh gosh,” she deplored.

For the San Juan/Laventille native who spent most of her life, otherwise successfully independent, the situation has broken her in ways unimaginable, too difficult to even put into words.

Sighing exhaustedly, she said, “Wow! It’s hard…it’s hard. Because I mean, I’m accustomed doing my thing on my own, basically. And now, with all this education that I have and all the skills that I have, with this pandemic, I am rendered practically useless,” Charles contended.

But despite the challenges, she refuses to be the lady who only sings the blues. To maintain her mental health and that of her children, Charles said she keeps a routine with them every morning, which involves praying, reading, exercising, watching the BBC news and staying hopeful that this too shall pass.

Anyone interested in assisting Michelle Charles can contact her at 319-7375.