Wigs and Nails Not a Misplaced Priority

I am happy that Damien Williams has started blogging again recently! He is a deep thinker and works hard at the grassroots level for Habitat for Humanity’s BRACED project in St. Catherine, about which I have written in previous posts. I think this is a tremendously important (and heartfelt) message that we should all take into our hearts, especially over this Easter weekend when many of us are in a reflective mode. Anyway, I am a fan of Damien – but not of Blogspot! But I have copied and pasted his latest post here. (The use of upper case is his). You can find the article at http://damienmwilliams.blogspot.com/2017/04/wig-nails-not-misplaced-priority.html

Jam Habitat community development officer Damien Williams (left) with some of the dedicated community members he works with in Naggo Head, St. Catherine. (My photo)

Wigs and Nails Not a Misplaced Priority

“They need to get their priority in order.”

“They do not have money to send their children to school but they have time to put in hairstyle!”

“I am not sorry for them at all. They too wicked.”

These are among the value statements we make against people living in economically depressed conditions. We speak with such contempt when it comes to the poor and how they “adjust their priorities.” We, with our well-thinking selves, impose upon those we presume ourselves to know better than, a set of values and priorities we “know” to be good for them, so that they can get their lives in “order”.

It was from this position of “awokeness” and perhaps being “well-intentioned”, that the then President of the West Jamaica Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Pastor Glen Samuels, spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2016. He did so to great chorus, as his audience erupted in laughter and loud applause, approving what was a very insensitive, callous but well meaning comment about it “making no sense that women wear $5000 hairstyles on a $5 head.”

Pastor Samuels was chastising women, who were spending their money on hairstyles instead of books for their children to go to school. His male and class privilege aside, the statement was plainly simplistic. The analysis that the choices are as simple as wigs and books demonstrates lack of empathy and plain ignorance of the realities faced by the people that the Pastor supposedly lumped together and placed small value on.

I am not a fan of the National Prayer Breakfast – although I understand that Children First, a local NGO, benefited from this year’s. There is too much self-satisfied pomposity, for me. (Photo: JIS)

I have learned that EMPATHY and AFFIRMING PEOPLE’S WORTH go a LONG way in their own journeys of transformation and self- actualisation. In my work in communities, the approach is always to TRUST the intelligence of the people and believe that THEY have the capacity to identify their problems and find solutions for them. The challenge as development practitioners and people who offer service to people we deem less fortunate is that we often position ourselves as Messiahs.

In my capacity as Field Operations & Capacity Building Manager for Habitat for Humanity Jamaica, I have become closely acquainted with the lived realities of the people we serve. It is also our practice to INCLUDE them at every level of decision. They sit on our project advisory team, they identify their problems; they tell us the type of help we can offer and what it is they are willing to do. They may be of little means, yes. They may not have the many amenities that we take for granted. But they are just as capable and they are the EXPERTS in their reality.

These are the toilet and bathroom arrangements (Under the sheet and behind the zinc) for one home occupied by several people in the area where Damien works. (My photo)

When I walk the communities, I see people who are willing to give, willing to serve, willing to smile and help while they themselves sleep under leaking roofs and within collapsing walls. Often, their houses are without flooring and a one room shares for multiple generations of them. Often, a toilet is absent or very inadequate. Often they dispose of the feces in very undignified ways and have people “cuss” and “style” them. And, I wonder how do they survive? How are they not insane or why are they not all murderers? The people we stay from a distance and judge are fighting impossible odds daily.

Before you start postulating about poor people and their “misplaced” priorities, try living a day in their shoes. Yes, as cliché as that sounds, it exposes the privileged positions from which you sit to talk about what they should or shouldn’t do with whatever money they don’t have. What is simple decision making for us – because we have sources of disposable income to save some in the bank for our children’s university career – is not so simple a decision for those whom you sit in your lofty position to judge. Spending on wigs and nails and a party when “pikni fi gaa skool” may seem senseless to you. But imagine days of not having food; no dignity of having a toilet and you have to use “shit bag” and sling it to have those who are a tad better off and call you dutty gyal; living in houses that require a tarpaulin to shelter from rain, while inside your house; not having a land to erect your own house so you have to live in crammed spaces, being put to sleep and being awakened by a barrage of bullets; having to hide where you live from the family you left at country or the men who have fathered your children, because you are ashamed of where u live; having dropped out of school because it couldn’t capture your imagination because it was under-served…

Imagine that as your reality 24/7 and yet being expected to leave your personal torment to go on the street and hear people whisper say you look pop dung!!!! You won’t understand the value that wigs and nails add to their lives until you’ve had to taste of their cup. Privilege is blind. It sees only itself in the mirror. I see you!!

PHOTO: Almost filled to capacity pit toilet that serves family of 11. There are many more worse off than this, who either have a hole in the ground or are forced to use plastic bags or resort to open defecation). Photo: Damien Williams

4 thoughts on “Wigs and Nails Not a Misplaced Priority

    1. I thought it was wonderful too and very important. Yes, we really do need to have more empathy. But very few of us even try to even imagine what it must be like…


  1. I truly empathize with these unfortunate people stuck in poverty, because many were not taught to strive for a better lifestyle – they lived what they know best.
    However, an EDUCATED child and parent will be better equipped to make decisions concerning the management and sustenance of his/her life, and family by knowing how to set priorities.
    Educate our boys and young men to be responsible citizens and take necessary preventive measures to avoid unwanted pregnancies in young women, childcare and protection for the young. We have witnessed the callousness and cruelty to our children on a daily basis. We know some of these abuses evolve out of an unplanned pregnancy, and the frustration of the parent. Plethora of media reports convey adequate testimony that we have an epidemic of child abuse in our global society.

    Women, who are the child-bearers, experience poverty at a higher percentage than men. An unacceptable proportion of the children born into abject poverty, tend to remain in poverty for the rest of their lives. A child who grows up under a harsh love-less condition is more likely to gravitate to crime. The young child that is deprived of emotional bonding with the parents, will have growth impediment due to deficiency in nutrients, lack of education, social skills, and the necessary tools to fit into society – becoming incorrigible. These behavioral disorders emerge in the formative years, and persist into adulthood.
    There is good evidence to show that when countries invest in both parents and children together, there is a far better stability for families.
    Improved academic and living standards will heighten the parents’ aspiration for their children’s future, and enhance the economic benefits of creating a smaller family. Job training programs for young adults, high quality child-care, and early childhood education facilities for the parents would be an excellent starting point.
    Every child needs a decent place to call home, be connected to a caring adult who can provide guidance, support and instill positive values, things vital to building a better life; health, optimism, and stability to seek opportunities and pathways to a productive future.
    Responsible parents or guardians (and academic institutions) can mitigate some of the cultural damage, if not all.


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