Raneil Thompson - the builder
Shanica Blair, Gleaner Writer
Sometimes disappointments in life are actually blessings in disguise. A determination to find something to do while not being able to attend school was the driving force behind the miniature buildings that Raneil Thompson has been making since he was eight years old.
With a natural affinity for old structures, he uses matchsticks and cardboard boxes as his primary materials. He used to purchase the cardboards from Corrpak Jamaica Limited, but now he gets them for free from the owner because of his talent.
Growing up in the hot, dusty community of Christian Gardens in Portmore, life was not always easy for this friendly soul who grew up carrying water with his siblings in what he described as a big housing scheme with people looking and staring - an embarrassing situation he had to face for years. One of few words, he showed Outlook the pages he uses to express himself - without a computer, his thoughts are handwritten.
But through all that he has been through, he always had a passion for constructing model buildings. He told Outlook that he was always messing around with the materials he found. "I would just put pieces of cardboards together to make a box, then cut out a square for a window or two and a door at the front and, finally there it was - a house in my hand."
He went on to explain that the models he used to make when he was younger weren't as attractive as the ones he does today. He has improved his craft by focusing on making them more attractive even though it was time-consuming depending on how intricate he wanted the design to be.
"In the past, one of the models would take a day or two because no details or painting were on them. However, the current ones can take anywhere from two weeks to three months, depending on the size of the model," he said. Thompson stresses that it does not matter how time-consuming they are, because it is something that he loves to do and it takes his mind off his situation at home. It is his love for buildings that he hopes to use as his way out of poverty to make life a little better for his mother.
"It's the encouraging words from my mother, brothers and good friends that motivate me. My mother works very hard to make ends meet with what little she has, and that motivates me to try and work my way out of poverty and stress," he said. He told Outlook that growing up, life was never easy for him and his siblings. One of eight children, the 19-year-old said that his mother, who is a days worker and a Christian, had difficulties as jobs were few and far between.
While attending the Independence City Primary, things were not so difficult because he and his siblings were on the PATH Programme. However, when it was time to move on to high school, things got more strenuous because, most times, his mother only had enough money for bus fare.
Having lived without electricity and water for 10 years, the past student of Waterford High School says there were days when he was so stressed and depressed at home, he would cry. "Because of the lack of electricity, I had to hurry home from school in the evenings to catch the sun before it sets, and most nights I would study under the street light. It was not until the last year of high school that a church sister of my mother's paid off our bills and helped us to reconnect our utilities," he divulged.
"It was very hard! From time to time, my mother could only afford to give me $15 (well that was from back then) and that was all she had, one bus fare, so I had to ask teachers for fares to go back home. Not even a proper meal in the mornings, but I was on the lunch programme so I was able to get a meal at lunch time every day, which most times filled the gap where breakfast and dinner should be," he said.
The situation continued until his neighbour Linnet Farquharson took him under her
wings. "She took me under her wings and helped me with uniforms, shoes, school-books, lunch money, and any little thing I needed," he told Outlook.
Despite the struggles he faced in his young life, Thompson has persevered and pushed through school, focusing on his love for buildings, ensuring that he got enough CXC subjects so that he can become an architect. He has already sent in his application to the University of Technology (UTech) despite not knowing where the first dollar would come from to pay for his programme. He told Outlook that he is being optimistic in all things and will be applying for scholarships at UTech as well as Scotiabank.
While it's the
encouragement of his family, his craft is motivated by, "the beauty and
details and the different designs of buildings, which is why I want to
be an architect." His latest project, a model of the Half-Way Tree
Courthouse that he took pictures of in order to make it, is a
breathtaking spectacle which he says is battery-powered, with decorative
lights. His aim right now is to move right on to his next project,
because he is not satisfied with one building.
next aim is to make a model of the Half-Way Tree Transport Centre. I
know this is a huge task, but I am going to try it." This, he says, will
be constructed based on pictures he is going to take of the
Having walked the streets of Kingston with
his designs so that people can see them, he told
Outlook that, besides making the buildings, he is a
musician at church who has been asked to play at weddings and some
Photos by Shanica Blair