By Andrew Smith, Staff Reporter
ASTONIS a 15-year-old with a vicious temper. I first came across him fighting with Jermaine, another street boy, by the traffic lights outside the old Half-Way Tree Courthouse. The fight was brought over from the previous night when their gangs were stoning each other. The next day, Aston had a knife, Jermaine had a broken bottle and they went after each other in the churchyard of the St. Andrew Parish Church.
Fortunately, staff of the Institute of Jamaica's Junior Centre in the old courthouse managed to separate them, clean them up, give them something to eat and tried to reason with them.
Aston was in no mood for reasoning. His temper was simmering and he appeared as if he had some urgent unfinished business to deal with.
Fortunately, he was separated from Jermaine. Casper, one of the tutors with the Junior Centre, and a former street boy himself, tried to talk to Aston to find out what was the cause of the fighting and why he was on the street. We found out that his mother, Diane, lives in Majesty Gardens and has lupus. She cannot earn enough to support Aston and his eight siblings. He says that he's on the street to earn money to help her.
MOTHER IN MAJESTY GARDENS
Diane has lived all her 45 years in Majesty Gardens. Her nine children are aged three to 19 years old and her affliction with the chronic illness requires bi-monthly treatment. It is extremely hard for her to provide for her family and herself, but she ekes out an existence by doing days work and washing. This is not nearly enough. "Mi supposed to go doctor from wah day and I don' have de money fi go right now. Because sometimes when I wash, I get all a $500, a little $800. Mi haffi just cook. Who can go a school, go a school, who cyaan', go just stay. For a six bwoy pickney mi have without no father three girls. It hard. Mi naw get no help from nobody."
Aston's father isn't able to help because he's dead. Aston was named after his father and he is close to his three brothers, who are aged 10, 11 and 13. Aston Sr. was an entertainer, who witnessed the slaying of members of his family, which included the rape and murder of his seven-year-old niece near Hagley Park. He escaped with gunshot wounds through a window. His statement resulted in arrests being made, but when he went to the Circuit Court to testify, the case was put off. On his way to testifying at the later date, he was murdered by gunmen. The date of his murder is forever burnt into Diane's memory.
Diane is currently 'kotching' in a neighbour's house because her own house was burnt down last year. The house where she used to live housed eight other families, including a girl whose boyfriend beat her. In revenge, she lit his clothes and the ensuing fire burnt down the entire structure. Diane was not at home to save any of her clothes or her material and tools which she used to make leather slippers, belts, bags and shoes. By selling these, she used to be able to send her children to school, including Aston and his three brothers. While there, they came under the influence of bigger boys and found themselves on the street after school. With the loss of income after the fire, they stopped going to school and took to the street.
A PROUD WOMAN
In spite of all of the adversities which Diane has faced, she is a very proud woman. She would much rather prefer her sons to be at school than on the street. She refuses to accept any of the $3,000 to $4,000 which Aston and his brothers can earn daily on the street through hustling and begging. She says that if she did, it would encourage their staying on the street. So the boys spend the money on gambling, ganja and drinking. She says, "mi tired fi talk to dem. Mi carry dem to all family counsellor, mi carry dem a station. Dem still naw change."
Diane is extremely candid about the fact that she has nine children for five different men. She says, "sometime you nuh really have nuttin' and yu see somebody out there who a gi' yu somet'ing. Yu nuh really wan' go deh wid dem, but unfortunately you might go wid dem and yu get caught." She adds, "yu can' dash dem weh, yu haffi bring dem. 'Cause yu don' know what dem a go turn inna deh future." This faith has resulted in her keeping her nine children.
FAITH IN THE FUTURE
Diane believes that she could support her family if she could go back to making and selling her leather goods. This regular source of income could send her children to school. Pointing to Stacy, her 17-year-old daughter, she says, "she pass and a go Jose Marti (Technical High School) and sometimes I can't even find the lunch money and the bus fare fi give her fi about three weeks now she nuh go school." Keisha and George ages nine and six both attend Dupont Primary "as regularly as possible." Three-year-old Charles stays at home with his mother. Janet, her eldest child at nineteen, is fortunate to receive support from her father's family in Old Harbour where she spends much of her time.
In order to restart her business, she says, "mi would a like... even a $10,000 fi put inna business." If she got this, then, "I know if I go out today I can sell so I can send dem children to school. Buy back certain amount of t'ings to go back on the road that mi can sell fi a two or three day in the week. And the other rest of day dem I spend some time look after mi children dem fi go to school." In addition, she would also teach her children to help her make the products which would also keep them off the street.
AIMING TO REBUILD
She also wants to rebuild her house. The house that she lives in now is owned by a woman who left for England last month. When she starts working,, she says that she will send down money for her three children which Diane is taking care of while she stays in the house. In order to rebuild her own house, Diane would like to acquire some lumber, zinc and cement from Food for the Poor, but she is unable to get a letter of recommendation because she does not know any Justices of the Peace.
But her number one priority is to get her sons off the street. She doesn't want them to go to the Jamaica Christian Boys Home where many street boys go for remedial education. She wants Aston and his brothers to go to Cockburn Gardens All-Age School. She wants Stacy to graduate from Jose Marti and hopefully she can keep Keisha, George and Charles in school and off the street. She knows that it will be hard but she is not losing faith. When she goes to Waltham Park, "on a Sunday when I have time, I go church and ask for a special prayer for them." Let us pray.
All names have been changed for the subject's protection..