Proud street sweeper

Proud street sweeper

College student has no regrets as he balances school, multiple jobs

Observer staff reporter

Monday, September 16, 2019

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DESPERATE and unemployed, Omar Richardson jumped at an opportunity to sweep the streets of the Corporate Area when he had very little money. He needed to survive.

It didn't matter that he had eight Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate passes and certifications in project management, sales and mixology, after being without a job for two years, he had to find a way to sustain himself.

Today, he declares himself a “proud street sweeper” who is also a third-year marketing student at the University of the Commonwealth Caribbean (UCC) on Worthington Avenue in Kingston.

Any regrets? Absolutely none, he said.

“I used to be a sweeper [in] the area right beside the Canadian Embassy, going down to Constant Spring Road. I used to sweep Devon Road...and then I was moved to sweep West King's House Road,” Richardson told the Jamaica Observer in a recent interview.

He applied for other jobs but nothing panned out. So, when one of his friend's informed him of vacancies for street sweepers, he didn't hesitate.

“My friend works at National Solid Waste [Management Authority] (NSWMA) and she knew I was out of a job. She told me that she knew I was more qualified but that [her organisation] was taking on some sweepers... and if I was interested. I said, 'Yes'. She said they would start [the application process] at four o'clock and I [got to] NSWMA from three o'clock, because even though I had a little money save, I knew I wanted the job to sustain myself,” the former Dinthill High School student told the Observer.

However, Richardson said he had always wanted more for himself.

“I decided to get a degree because I want to better myself. I want to break the cycle of poverty that I came up on — seeing my grandmother struggling. I think that any job is a job, and I'm sweeping the road and getting a very small stipend, but no one is going to take up that money and give to me on the day when I am supposed to get paid. I am a proud sweeper,” Richardson said.

The 37-year-old applied to UCC in 2017 and was admitted to pursue a bachelor of science degree in marketing.

Balancing odd job hours and taking home a meagre salary, Richardson turned to the Students' Loan Bureau to finance his education.

“I decided that I only wanted Students' Loan to foot the cost for the first two years of my degree, and then after that I would try and foot the cost to eliminate how much I would pay back to Students' Loan [Bureau],” he explained.

He got the loan and continued sweeping the streets of the Corporate Area. Then came another job opportunity last year.

Richardson had applied for and was offered a job at Jamaica Urban Transit Company monitoring the buses remotely.

Despite his bump in earnings, with the additional source of income, Richardson's initial plan to finance his education at the beginning of his third year of school was not achieved.

“On my income, I [still] could not afford the school fee,” he explained.

However, he didn't give up. Richardson started selling bottles of cologne to further supplement his income.

“It helps out a lot. Sometimes my salary deals with the larger expenses, so this (sales business) is what takes me back to work and buy lunch and so forth,” he explained.

Recently, he was awarded an academic scholarship by the university.

Pointing out that the scholarship covers more than half of his tuition, he said he has worked out a payment plan with the institution to cover the remainder of the fees.

“I want to finish my degree in three and a half years instead of the four and a half years that was suggested by the university. This semester, I am actually doing six modules,” the part-time student told the Observer.

Although to some, balancing a full-time job and attending school might be difficult, Richardson said it boils down to strategic planning.

“My studying tactic is actually planning, organising, and controlling my time. I think that preparation is the key...I usually set out my plan for the entire semester before the semester starts. You have to know what you need to do to accomplish the plan,” he explained, adding that planning is the easy part.

“I assign four hours to studying each day. Some people might not be able to dedicate that amount of time, but I think four hours is a reasonable time,” he continued.

Director of student affairs at UCC Kevin Powell told the Observer that Richardson is a model student.

“He's a kind of student that, notwithstanding the impediments, the struggles, the difficulties that come with being a student, he understands that hard work is what is necessary to be successful. He's not afraid to put in the hard work; he's not afraid to do what it takes to be disciplined, to be diligent, and to ensure that he gets what he wants out of life,” Powell said, adding that Richardson is proactive.

Though his last contract with the NSWMA came to an end in 2018, Richards still fills in as a street sweeper whenever needed.

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