Jhanille A. Brooks | From the other side of the windscreen
There have been recent discussions about banning the windscreen wipers from the streets or whether to regulate their activities. Many persons argue that these men are more of a nuisance than anything else, disrespecting innocent drivers and oftentimes being violent. Though I don't doubt that this is true, I beg to offer a view from the other side of the windscreen.
Having worked in inner-city community development for the past seven years, I have met a wide cross section of youth and older adults with different stories. I have seen a few young men decide to venture into a life of crime, seen young girls get pregnant at 14, witnessed young people be the first in their families to graduate from university, and watched young entrepreneurs start their own businesses.
It is often tricky to determine the factors that determine whether or not social-intervention programmes cause the success of its participants, but having seen first-hand more positive results than negative, I would shudder to think what would happen if they did not exist.
Last summer, I was driving hastily down a major thoroughfare to try to catch the light. As I sped down the road, I noticed a familiar face standing on the road with a wiper in his hand. It was too late to turn around, and in fact, I was late to my destination and had other passengers in the car. I quickly called someone I used to work with to inquire the last time she had spoken with Sheldon. As it turns out, she reported that she had last seen him wiping windows at the same intersection.
Rewind a few years back when I had met Sheldon at a summer camp. He had won the hearts of his fellow campers as he was a sportsman and a Bogle in the making. As soon as music played through the speakers, the other campers would call on him to perform, and to top it all off, he was well-mannered and lovable.
One day while down at the football field, I noticed fresh bruises on Sheldon's back. He told me that his mother had beaten him the night before with a stick. He regrettably reported that this type of beating was a regular occurrence. I told him that I was mandated to report the incident to the authorities. He didn't think anything would come of it, as he thought no one cared about the people from his community.
Sheldon, who lived in an inner-city community off Spanish Town Road, had been kicked out of the house by his mother and sent to live with an uncle. A year later, he was living under a bus shed for a few months before another family member took him in.
In our position, we were unable to directly secure a housing solution for him. Sheldon refused to go on to the streets to beg/work and insisted on going to school despite his situation. Thus my surprise when I drove past him years later. Now legally an adult, Sheldon often ventures onto the street to hustle, as he now lives alone and abuse-free in a government home in his community. Window wiping was a last resort for him, and he is currently trying to acquire his TRN in order to go back to school.
I then reflect on Andrew, whom I often pass on the street wiping windscreens at the Portia Simpson Miller Square. He was another of our summer-camp participants who came from unfortunate circumstances. The difference between Andrew and Sheldon is that Andrew never had the desire to be in school, even from a young age. He failed to see the connection between schooling and money-making.
Last, I think about Kevin, whom I have not seen since that fateful summer. Kevin, wherever he is, is surviving; of this I am confident. Kevin's mother had also sent him on the streets to hustle, as he was the eldest child and had to fend for his younger siblings. The summer camp was quite an inconvenience for Kevin, as he saw it as interfering with his 'hustle'. Nevertheless he was present and actually enjoyed himself.
On the first Friday, however, he was missing from camp, when he returned the next week, he reported that Friday was his most profitable day, and he could not afford to miss it. Another day shortly after camp had ended, I passed him by MegaMart. He said "Auntie, down my side too congested with too much people, hard fi hustle with so much competition." A businessman in the making, as at a young age he was able to identify his best business days and find an underserved location.
I know that none of this changes the fact that many of these windscreen cleaners are aggressive and violent. I also know that this may not evoke any sympathy from those of us who have been cursed out and have had our property damaged by them.
However, what I must underscore is the need for sustained social-intervention programmes in order to possibly put a dent in the cycle of some of these social ills. Social intervention, especially in inner-city and rural areas, is paramount to national development.
Non-profit organisations now need to find innovative ways to keep their lights on and continue to serve vulnerable communities. This is where the Government needs to step its game up if it is serious about national development.
Everyone has a story; let's bear that in mind when we interact with each other. More important, let us endeavour to help one another when we can to build a better Jamaica for the next Sheldon, Andrew and Kevin.
- Jhanille A. Brooks is affiliated with the Jamaica Mental Health Advocacy Network. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.