Executive editor — publications

Monday, March 09, 2020

While most people would shun clearing waste from households, businesses and schools, Kedisha Pennant and Carol Francis do it with pride. In fact, both women regard their jobs as important to the well-being of their fellow Jamaicans and the preservation of the country’s environment.

“This company serves the whole of Jamaica. It’s not a joke,” argued Pennant, a National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) team leader. “If you have garbage scattered everywhere, come on, imagine dengue. So we cannot go out there like it’s a joke, we’re dealing with people’s lives so we have to take it serious.”

Pennant and Francis are sanitation workers at Metropolitan Parks and Markets (MPM), one of five regional agencies run by NSWMA.

In an interview with the Jamaica Observer ahead of International Women’s Day, which was celebrated yesterday, the duo spoke candidly about their experiences in the male-dominated solid waste management sector.

What became clear during the discussion was the passion both women had for their jobs and their dedication to the company which, they insist, is a great place to work.

They spoke with pride about the company’s core values — Accountability, Transparency, Teamwork, Integrity, Respect, and Excellence (ATTIRE) — which are instilled in each employee.

“This job is awesome… it will educate you,” Pennant said, adding that she would readily encourage anyone to work at NSWMA.

“I know what I get here. As I tell you, this job educates you; they even have a programme with HEART… that the company pays for. So I would tell anyone, when you come to solid waste, come to MPM, you cannot lose. It will educate you, you will be able to take care of your children. It’s a wonderful job with wonderful, great people,” said Pennant, who is regarded as the face of the company in Zone 4, which comprises Rose Garden, Franklin Town, Rae Town, and Brown’s Town — some of the capital city’s toughest communities.

Typically, Pennant’s day starts at 4:00 am when she gets to the Zone 4 base in Rose Garden from where the sanitation crew are dispatched. Her job, she explained, requires her to go ahead of the truck and ensure that the collection of waste is done properly.

“I have to walk around in the communities to check where rubbish is, because sometimes it’s not just on the streets, sometimes people throw it in an open area,” Pennant told the Observer.

Asked if she fears going into those communities that early in the day, Pennant said no. “The people in the communities treat the NSWMA workers with respect,” she said. Additionally, her penchant for showing the residents respect, even on occasions when they litter the street, has won her admiration in the communities.

Pennant, who has been with the company for three years, admitted that she did not choose the job. “This job chose me. I give God all the glory, because He’s the one who made it possible. There was a vacancy for a team leader and I was available,” she said.

The team leader, she explained, is like a supervisor. “I’m the person responsible for making sure the sanitation crew do what they’re supposed to do; make sure the job is properly done. That means making sure the roads are swept clean, that no rubbish is left behind, that dead animals are taken up, etc,” she said.

In contrast, Francis starts working at 6:00 am and her crew is despatched from the NSWMA complex at Hagley Park Road in St Andrew, to collect commercial waste from schools and businesses.

“We are assigned to different areas, sometimes Kingston, sometimes Linstead, sometimes Bog Walk as MPM covers Kingston and St Andrew, St Catherine, and St Thomas,” Francis told the Observer.

Her day, she admitted, is long as she normally signs out about 5:30 pm, but just like Pennant, the extra hours are by choice.

Asked why she sought the job, Francis, who has been with NSWMA for almost 10 years, said she was excited by the challenge.

“This line of work tends to have a stigma attached to it. Not everyone wants to do it, but I’m not an office person, I like to keep moving, so I like work that gives you challenges, and this is one of them,” she explained.

But while Francis relishes the challenges, she expressed concern that some Jamaicans are not aware of how to properly contain their garbage.

“They believe that everything is garbage — stone, old chair, old fridge, old tiles — so they will throw everything in the drum and we have a challenge lifting it,” Francis revealed.

Some people, she added, also believe that the sanitation crew are supposed to go into their yards, take their garbage drums out, empty them into the truck, and place the drums back inside the yards.

“So we have challenges with people like that. When they hear the truck coming, they’re not coming out of their yards with the garbage, and if they do come out they just open their gates and go back inside,” she said.

That difficulty was acknowledged by NSWMA’s public relations official Kimberley Blair. “People don’t realise that the crew are not supposed to go into yards. If they do, it’s more a matter of discretion,” Blair explained.

Added Francis: “When the garbage is put outside it makes it easier for us and we move faster.”

Outside of that, Francis is satisfied with the attitude of most Jamaicans and shared that she is never bored on the job, as her encounters with people are most times amusing.

She recalled a recent exchange she had with a woman who asked her if she actually worked on the garbage truck.

“I said yes. She then asked, ‘So how you clean so?’” Francis related with a laugh.

However, for the St Catherine mother of three who attended Penwood High School, her appearance on the job is important.

“We represent a company that is trying to keep Jamaica clean, so we need to represent that also. We cannot keep saying that we are keeping Jamaica clean and at the same time we are dirty. We have to make sure that we’re in alignment with what the company says,” Francis argued.

“There are people who really make your day. Some will come out and say ‘Big up yourself mommy, I like what you’re doing, keep up the good job,” she related.

Pennant, too, has had many encouraging moments.

“Residents have told me that I’m the nicest team leader that ever work in that zone and they don’t want another. That alone takes the cake,” she told the Observer.

Additionally, Pennant — who is from Bog Walk in St Catherine, and attended Tulloch Primary School and Bog Walk Comprehensive High — said that the good relationship she has with residents gives her the latitude to gain their understanding and patience if the crew are having a problem with a truck.

“I can go to the residents and say please, bear with me, and they will say okay. Relationship and honesty are the best things,” said Pennant, mother to a 21-year-old son.

Asked how they relax after such long hours on the job, both women gave contrasting answers.

“I read my Bible,” said Pennant, who worships at Cathedral of Praise on Mountain View Avenue.

For Francis, sleep does the trick.

“I try to get most of my sleep. It’s not easy on the road, so when I reach home I head straight to my bathroom and then to my bed,” she said, pointing out that her children — a 28-year-old daughter and two sons, 25, and 11 years old — take care of her.

“My children tell me to relax. They say ‘Mommy, we are not leaving you’.”