Chinese Cemetery rejuvenates low-income communities

April 12, 2017
A section of The Chinese Cemetery.
Caretaker of the Chinese Cemetery Bobby Steele shows of the well-kept areas.
Robert Hew, vice-president of the Chinese Benevolent Association.
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The Chinese Cemetery located at 19 Waltham Park road in Kingston is not only a final resting place, but also an employment base for residents from the surrounding communities.

The owners, the Chinese Benevolent Association (CBA), brought THE STAR on a tour of the facility recently, where our news team learnt about the residents' involvement and some history of the cemetery.

Vice-president of the CBA, Robert Hew told THE STAR that some 3,600 people were buried on the 11.5-acre property, built about 1904.

Hew said, "The first burial was done here about 1912. We know exactly which row and plot a person is in, so even if some of the tombs are missing the headstones or have been vandalised over the years, we could still find exactly where they were and allow the families to find them."

To guard against vandals and for the upkeep of the property, several people from the nearby communities have been employed.

Hew said, "These usually were some thriving communities. The areas had their ups and downs however up to about 10 years ago when this restoration was started in earnest, it (the cemetery) was overgrown. It's a bit seasonal but up to 15 or so from the communities are employed. We always have a little masonry work going on, a little grass cutting, weeding, spraying and tending to flowers."

Since the cemetery has been properly maintained, many families have visited.

Vandals would plague the cemetery however because of the rejuvenation of the community through employment, things have been under control.

Hew said many iron grilles and marble headstones were taken in the past.

"The amount of vandalism has radically declined, partly because the communities see that a number of people are employed over here and they realise they can get their bread and butter over here and they don't want others to destroy that," he said.

 

Very challenging

 

Bobby Steele, 36, a resident of the Waltham Park area is the caretaker. He took up the reins following the service of his great grand father who is a retired caretaker of the cemetery.

Steele told THE STAR, "Sometimes it's very hard and critical at times. When the different communities a war, it is difficult to handle cause dem used to use the cemetery to pass and fire shot on each other."

He said the day to day work can be hard.

"If I give 10 people on that side work and five on that side, they say bias and it can be very challenging. I try to communicate with the community, however not everyone is willing," Steele said.

He told THE STAR that he sleeps at the cemetery and stays there at least five nights for the week. Steele said he had no fear living there.

"I was born here so why should I fear? No duppy or no living man in the communities I fear. From I born until now I never hear nobody from my family say dem see any ghost. I hear people say them see black man duppy but no Chinese duppy," he said jokingly.

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