From the other side of the wind­screen

Jamaica Gleaner - - SATURDAY TALK - Jhanille A. Brooks Guest Colum­nist

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 in­nercity 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 col­umns@glean­


These wind­screen clean­ers are busy at the Por­tia Simp­son Miller Square.

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