Students Awakened by Award-Winning Journalist Melissa Noel
Wired on their morning coffee, an intro to journalism class is greeted by the award-winning journalist, Melissa Noel at LaGuardia Community College.
Ms. Noel is a Guyanese-American independent multimedia journalist. With a Master’s degree from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, she’s gone on to write for Voices of New York, report for NBC News and One Caribbean Television. She was the 2009 recipient of the White House Correspondent’s Association award and the 2017 pick for the Institution of Caribbean Studies’ 30 under 30 Emerging Caribbean American Leader honorary award.
There to answer all of the aspiring journalists’ questions and speak on behalf of the Pulitzer Center, Ms. Noel also presented her documentary, “Love and a Barrel”, her documentary surrounding the underreported topic of barrel-children in Jamaica, funded by the Pulitzer Center.
“Barrel children are the children that are left behind in the Caribbean when a parent migrates for economic opportunities, and they are called barrel children because they receive material goods, clothing, food, shoes, and those kinds of things in shipping barrels,” explains Ms. Noel when defining the term “barrel children.”
Inspired by a fictional film presented in Brooklyn by the Caribbean Film Academy about barrel children, she began doing research on these children, specifically looking into the mental after effects of being left behind and reuniting with their families. Ms. Noel found that there was nocoverage done by any news outlets and decided to pursue the story. She credits a young woman who she was introduced to during the Brooklyn event, who expressed how relatable the film was to her own story of being left behind nearly 16 years ago in Trinidad and Tobago, and is now unable to form a stable relationship with her mother.
Parents who migrate from the Caribbean to either the United States or Canada do so for the sole purpose of feeding and clothing their children, not expecting to harm their child’s mental state. Ms. Noel describes the economical strains on families who make the move, explaining, “There were a lot of people that I interviewed who could make three times more as a nurse in Canada than they could in Jamaica. Or five times as much in New York than they could in Jamaica for certain positions and that was the incentive to move.”
Most children left during the early years are now unable to form a bond with their parent, leaving families who reunite in the later years with not much of a relationship. “That’s when I learned about things like the attachment theory, that the bond between a parent and a child is something that is formed during the first eight years of life,” Ms. Noel told the class.
Dr. Claudette Crawford Brown, a clinical social worker in Jamaica, designated the term barrel children in the 1990’s, specifically for children who receive their affection through barrels. She works to help barrel children cope with their neglected feelings through art therapy which includes the use of puppetry. “She’s been able to start art therapy programming as well as school programming that has to do with this issue,” Ms. Noel said.
After arriving in the United States, most parents try to sponsor their child in hopes of continuing their lives together. The average waiting time for a child under 21 to be sponsored is 5 years. During those 5 years, most children have reached their unhinged, hormonal years. Errol Gray senior and his son Errol Gray Junior were reunited after his son turned 17. “He’s never lived with his son. He [Errol Gray Junior] gets here to the Bronx, he’s trying to be a disciplinarian, and it backfired on him,” Ms. Noel revealed in an account of Mr. Gray’s father-son relationship.
Many of the children interviewed for the documentary were in their teens along with one 7-year old girl. Ms. Noel expressed the importance of the children’s comfort zones, saying “I made sure Dr. Brown was there at all times or close-by so the children felt comfortable. Going into these interviews on such heavy topics, you can never just go right into it. You have to show them you’re a person to get them to open up.”
The story doesn’t end here. Ms. Noel hopes to cover more underreported topics, and will speak on behalf of barrel children at the University of the West Indies in January. “I’m the child of immigrants,” says Ms. Noel. “My parents are from Guyana. I spent a lot of time as a child going back and forth from the U.S. to Guyana. So I would say that this is part of why I knew this story is so important to tell because you often don’t hear these kinds of stories when we talk about migration or immigration.”
The following day, Ms. Noel spoke on behalf of her documentary to 157 students and faculty in the Little Theatre.