New Internationalist

Jack:’The Kind of life I want’

Issue 377

Jack is 12 but looks 9 - he is tiny and lean. He had to leave his mother (whom he loves dearly) and six siblings to try and earn his keep. He was drowsy from lack of sleep due to round-up operations in his area the previous night. Suffering from a toothache, he still wanted to talk about his life. And when the memories were too painful and the words refused to come, he drew pictures instead.

I sleep in a park. Sometimes I wake up during the night. As soon as I wake up I start doing something – I beg, I ask for money and food, even from strangers. Then I sleep again. Sometimes I wake up in the afternoon.

I don’t like it but I also wipe shoes. I can earn 200 pesos [$3.65] in one day from wiping shoes inside the [very crowded] jeepneys. I don’t know how many shoes I have to wipe to earn it. I get kicked on my back by some of the passengers.

I use a cloth to wipe shoes. I don’t have any polish or anything. I just ask the drivers for a piece of cloth. I pick up rags in the jeepney even when the driver is not there. Sometimes the driver gets down from the jeep and goes inside to where the passengers are. And he has a pipe which he uses to beat me. When people hit me I always tell my friends.

We are also beaten by the police. And even by those who conduct the ‘rescue operations’ [local government sponsored round-ups of street children, usually at night, who are then held in detention centres – Reception and Action Centres (RAC)]. Once I was caught but not at first because I ran and ran and ran. The woman who caught us, cornered us and punched me in the nose. There was blood and I had a swelling in my eye. I did nothing. My brother also went to the RAC and they beat him. A chair was thrown at him. When I saw that, I escaped. They followed after me. I was wounded – here is my wound [points to wounds on his stomach and thigh].

I also had an accident here on UN Avenue. Two jeepneys got out of control and I found myself in the middle. The jeep moved, then another jeep also came in – the jeepneys got fed up with me. My back got squashed so much I really had difficulty in walking. But mainly the jeepney drivers are not angry with me because I cross the street properly.

[Jack asks to make a drawing and starts talking about it as he sketches.]

Photo: Fran Harvey
Jack with his Childhope street educator, who also keeps an eye on him. Photo: Fran Harvey

This is the ghost. I don’t know whose ghost it is. He has a hat. He’s a hunchback.

The hands of the ghost are like this because he always frightens people during the night and we become afraid. They can kill. Ghosts are worse than the bad people. They eat people. I’ve seen a ghost in the forest [the park in his area]. There are also women ghosts. The women ghosts are good and the men are bad. The women ghosts feel mercy towards us.

[Starts second sketch; see above.]

All of this is the light. This is the sun and a house for the people. The house is getting bigger and bigger and bigger. This house is for me and my brothers and sisters. Here’s a dimple on the sun. Some of my siblings would study and some would guard the house. That’s the kind of life I want to have for me and my brothers.

I pick up pieces of cardboard to sleep on at night. The bits that are thrown out by people. It’s very uncomfortable. I don’t feel protected on the streets. A proper place to sleep would be a house.

Jack, Lean-Joy and Jessa spoke to Dinyar Godrej and Fran Harvey of the New Internationalist co-operative.

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