Of Janitors and Parenthood


Dear Bespectacled Lady with the female child at Nex Shopping Mall (27 Feb 2014, evening),

You were bending on your knees along the corridor, telling your child this: “those ppl had those kind of jobs because they have no education.” You also asked your child if she wanted to be one of those people, to which she shook her head.

I was holding onto Mikaela’s hand. Mikaela is my 4 yr-old niece. We just had dinner at the Japanese restaurant within the mall when our paths crossed.

I disagree with what you’ve just told your child. Cleaning & sanitation is a job that many have shunned but it takes so much more than an education to do this job. It is a job that requires great resilience and humility. This role is so very important to our society and community; we need janitors in hospitals to ensure that waste is promptly removed so that germs don’t build up. We need refuse collectors to keep our streets clean and safe. We need waste removers to ensure that our food and water sources are not contaminated.

I have been telling Mikaela that we are fortunate that we don’t live in landfills and that we have our estate cleaned daily by our friendly Bangladeshi janitor. My mum and i sometimes give him food and clothes (pre-loved though) because he has become a neighbour of sorts.

Dear Bespectacled lady, your child is privileged. Those people whom you deem as uneducated didn’t chose to be uneducated. They had other situations to go through e.g. extreme poverty and war (those who were in their 70s & 80s and still working as cleaners). Our Singaporean Government has only in recent years provided some form of welfare to the pionner generation.

Why are there so many foreign workers holding cleaning and sanitation jobs in Singapore? Because they had no chance of improving their social mobility opportunities if they remain in their countries. Because no Singaporeans with an option of another role would want to do so.

What sort of parent would you be to your child if you teach her that there are lesser jobs in this world? Are those holding these jobs lesser than your child’s worth? Last I have checked, it is an honest living though many companies don’t pay well simply because of these values that parents like you inculcate in your children.

These children then grow up to join companies worthy of their university degrees and sit behind their computers forming policies that determine how much others should be paid based on their elitist views on a job’s prestige.

We are fortunate because we can afford to pay for such services where others clean up after us. But it doesn’t give us the right to deem anyone as being lesser just because they did not undergo higher education.

Every child’s perspective is coloured by his/her parents/parent’s values. Are you setting the right example for your child?


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