Ghetto makeover

In the week before Christmas, many of the poorer areas of Kingston get a quick makeover, as hundreds of local residents hack at overgrown pavements and daub the kerbs with whitewash. They are motivated not by a spontaneous burst of civic pride, but rather by the promise of a day’s work, usually paid for by the local politician. For some, it will be one of a few rare days of paid employment each year. It is noticeable, but not surprising, that most of the workers are women.

Although J$1,000 per day is surely welcome at this time of year, it does little to break the culture of clientelism and certainly falls short of providing long-term benefit to the individuals or the community.

As the Jamaican-Chinese proverb says:

Give a gyal a brush an’ she paint for a day. Give ‘er a heducation, a microcredit loan, a clean and safe environment

Ah man! Jus’ give ‘er de damn brush, y’hear?!


Painter girls in colour

10 thoughts on “Ghetto makeover

  1. Pingback: Global Voices Online » Blog Archive » Jamaica: Earning a quick dollar in the ghetto makeover

  2. hi, i found your story on Global Voices…

    these women look happy but it seems like a kind of mafia set-up in which they have little choice but to participate in the civic activities…

    what are all the men doing?

    from poland, jordan

  3. The choice was theirs as to whether they wanted the one day of work or not. It’s a tradition of charity rather than coercion. In this particular neighbourhood there are fortunately no gang leaders any more; they were rooted out by the police over a year ago. Other communities are informally ruled by “dons” or “area leaders”, to use a dubious euphemism. They clamp down on petty crime, pay school fees and settle disputes in return for loyalty and protection from the residents — that’s certainly old-style mafia.

    What were the men doing while the women were painting? Telling the women how to paint properly!

    The women were having a good time among themselves and they were very happy to get prints of a group shot I did of them.

  4. thanks for clarifying, i had the wrong idea about things…another thing, one of my favorite and old professor friends from college, nelson keith operates an ngo in st. thomas connected with edu-tourism ( — have you heard of it?

    my geoprgraphy isn’t good , are you close to st. thomas? i think his project is partly focused on local development…i haven’t contacted him in years, it’s ashame because he is such a great person (and hard to miss at over 6 feet tall)…

    i just wonder how the orginazation is doing…have a great weekend!


  5. Pingback: » Jamaica: Earning a quick dollar in the ghetto makeover

  6. Pingback: Stet » Blog Archive » Ghetto girls go global

  7. Pingback: Stet » Blog Archive » Business as usual

  8. It’s not just the poorer areas of Kingston – it’s something that takes place across the island and happens every Christmas and when elections are nigh. It’s usually flimsily disguised as a “beautification program” but everyone knows exactly what it is.

    First visit to your blog, great stuff!!

  9. Am responding to Jordan’s query about Edu-tourism in St. Thomas, Jamaica. We are hale and well, physically expanding our residential capacities, and are preparing to create a certificate program with a distinct global twist revolving around service-learning, partnerships, global understanding, empowerment instead of servility. All are invited to give their penny’s worth. We operate from a big tent.

    We are most encouraged by the responses of those who have so far passed through our doors.

    Nelson Keith, President, Edu-tourism, St. Thomas, Jamaica,
    Professor Emeritus

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