WE'VE been good this year. We wore masks, stayed home, constantly sanitised our hands, socially then physically distanced ourselves from our friends, co-workers, families, fellow worshippers and schoolmates to stay safe.
Some of us went without pay, while others stayed isolated in their homes. Some of us lost loved ones, while some lost incomes. Some of us had babies and got married without many of our friends and family, while others had to bury their dead without the support of our community.
As we adapt to our new normal, we write to ask for gifts for our community.
Jen Dieffenthaller and Marcia Assam were good girls this year. They took care of their terminally ill ex-brother-in-law during lockdown until he died. He had colon cancer and a swollen heart. Though they were no longer family, he had no one to care for him, so the sisters took him in between May to September. He died after surgery.
The sisters are spending Christmas in Tobago, but their gifts cannot fit in a stocking. All they want is for Christmas is the covid19 vaccine to travel again. They desperately want to visit their family abroad.
Dieffenthaller's grandson was born in June and she wants to meet him. He lives in Canada.
"Oakley Parsons was born on June 28 and I haven't gotten a whiff of him."
Alicia Francis, 32, is a proud business owner. She's a paediatric occupational therapist who opened her practice in July. She works with children with disabilities and was very good especially when she taught a five-year-old autistic boy how to spell his name.
She's getting married on Boxing Day with 20 people attending. All she wants for Christmas is for more occupational therapists to be in the public health sector and for her services to be covered by all insurance agents.
Katrina Phillips, 60, owns Upper Crust Patisserie in St James. Her restaurant is classified as a bakery and was able to stay open during lockdown.
Christmas this year, she said, will be a return to traditional values of sharing a meal and spending time with family. She's encouraging all her customers to invest in food over presents so they could enjoy the time together in the year where most people stayed apart.
During lockdown she sent her staff home and all but one of them received relief grants. In that period, she baked a lot of bread which kept her business afloat, but her returns are not the best. She is tired and wants rest.
"It's like people woke up yesterday and realised it was Christmas."
She's been receiving non-stop orders from people for black cake, pastelles and
pan de jamon – a Venezuelan Christmas dish with ham, olives and raisins.
"I want to close off orders but the bank won't let me...I've weathered the covid19 storm but the boat is battered."
One gift she wants is for business to get tax breaks to recover.
Ryan Boisis, 16, was a good boy by progressively improving his grades every year. He's a form four student in Fatima College. He started being diligent in form three and believes his marks would have been higher if he did not have to do school online.
He had a hard time adapting to online learning. While it is easier for him to google information at home than in class, he had challenges following the work.
"In regular school, I could easily catch up with my friends if I didn't understand something."
His birthday is on Christmas Day and he does not care much if he gets one present far less two. He enjoys buying gifts for others. His one wish is for teachers to do revision classes of all the work done online.
Nikolai Chan, 17, goes to St Mary's College and plays on the Saints football team. He misses his teammates. While under restrictions, the football team has been training alone.
This year he's been naughty and nice. At the beginning of 2020, he "played the fool" at school. His family called him a "social butterfly," but because of lockdown, he settled down, spent more time with the family and helped out at home more. He even started working in his family's business.
All he wants for Christmas is to get back on the football field with his friends.
"Football plays a big part in my life mentally and physically...We don't have the benefits of training as a team. We motivate each other."
Tenille Morgan, 24, has been a good mom this year. She has been managing to get her seven-year-old son to do online learning while working to support her two children as a single mother.
She leaves her son by his aunt, but not all the time he is adequately supervised because she has to work as a nuts vendor. She's worried about sales in January because people have less disposable income to spend on nuts.
All she wants for Christmas is for school to open so she does not have to worry about her son while trying to support her family.
Gabriel Blanco is a Venezuelan migrant who's lived here for three years. He's a dental technician. He's been good because he gives people "beautiful smiles." For Christmas he wants countries bigger than TT to help support Venezuelans.
He understands that Trinidad and Tobago does not have the capacity to support all the people wanting to leave Venezuela, and wishes there was an easier way for migrants to move between TT and larger countries such as Canada, the US and New Zealand.
Margaret McDowall has been a good girl this year. As chairman of the National Trust, she’s been working on creating a heritage assets inventory so more of the country’s buildings can be saved.
All she wants for Christmas is for people who own historic buildings to get fiscal incentives to encourage restoration. Any building could be restored and must be maintained, but historic buildings are more expensive to maintain because the materials commonly used for modern buildings cannot be used on older buildings. The wrong paint could further destroy a 50-year-old house.
Heritage buildings would not have the same value as modern buildings. They would cost more. She wants incentives where investments on the building allow for a tax rebate on property tax and a waiver on duties on imported material.
“If you are going to have a tax that is based on the highest value, people would be encouraged to knock down the building if they have to pay the property tax."
Kyle Maloney has been a good boy this year. His company TechBeach Retreat, an annual tech training conference, secured a grant from the Inter-American Development Bank to provide more digital technology skills training to people in the Caribbean.
For Christmas, he wants more digital technology skills training programmes at every professional level.
“There is a big gap in understanding digital in our society. Big companies do not understand enough to execute digital conversions and people are suffering...Our most important thing is having the country understand technology in varying ways. I ask that the private and public sectors do education drives.”
He wants a government mandate to teach technology literacy or offer incentives for staff training. He works with executives who want digital transformation, but struggle with implementation because of inexperience in the technology space and fear of failure.
"There is a culture in the Caribbean that punishes failure and have this iterative move-fast mentality where everyone wants to get it right on the first go, versus taking the approach of 'we are not going to get this right at once but we are committed to getting it done."
Companies need more than just a singular grant or training programme. If there is to be a true digital transformation, people need to be educated.
Public servants have been good boys and girls this year. They had to swiftly adapt to work-from-home measures –a structure that did not exist before – while keeping the country running during lockdown.
President of the Public Services Association, Watson Duke wrote Santa to ask for human resources to be digitised so people could get their pensions on time when they retire.
“Too many people are not receiving their pension on time. Digitise the pension and the pension records on time, so by the time a person leaves, they would collect their pension. It is criminal to have someone retired and the pension reports are not recorded. Those are not digitised.”
As well, anyone who works from home should get an allowance when they use their own devices, internet, electricity and even tea and coffee.
“It is not an easy thing to go ahead and work from home,” Duke said.
Santa, we understand not everyone could get their Christmas wish, as we are still in a pandemic, but we hope 2021 brings better health and connection.
Ham and ponche de crème is in the kitchen. Help yourself. Please sanitise at the door. Merry Christmas.