With more elderly folk dominating ‘the clean scene’, SHEEREEN TEO believes that it’s time to start reminding one another to “clean up” after ourselves.

Let’s face it: We’ve all been on the receiving end of the tirade of dissatisfaction heaped upon us from our elders especially when it comes to cleaning up.

The phrase “You young people these days ah!” would probably sound familiar to most of us. And they probably would have every right to make such a comment. Why? Because our current generation have turned into brats who need to be reminded about the basics of helping to keep the environment clean and to clean up after themselves.

For instance, 17-year-old Marianne Chee, a first year student studying in Singapore Institute of Management University (UNISIM) , has this to say: “They (cleaners) are paid to do it, so why not just let them do it?”

Young Singaporean live in a society where there will always be cleaning “aunties” and “uncles” picking up after us and for certain households. Many also have a domestic helper who does every single house chore you can possibly think of. A sense of complacency and the “I-Can’t-Be-Bothered” attitude that is increasingly prevalent among our youths. A former discipline mistress of Hwa Chong Junior College , Ms Kok Wan Yee, 48, says, “Every generation of teenagers will be spoilt. They’re just spoilt in different ways. For this generation, their “It’s-all-about-me” attitude is what’s a major problem.”

A quick check with all the local polytechnics reveals that four out of the six schools employ janitors and cleaners, a large majority who are above the age of 55 years old. The practice of returning one’s cutlery and playing a part in keeping the school clean has more or less been abandoned because of the steady supply of cleaners who keep our school’s surroundings clean.

A representative of one of the cleaning companies employed by a vast majority of tertiary institutions that requested for both her identity and the company’s to be withheld, explains that most people view cleaner jobs as “lowly” professions for the old or uneducated. A school janitor, 56, who only wished to be identified as Mr Tan, says, in Mandarin, that while he had no bad experiences so far, he admits that he found youths “lazy” and “inconsiderate” at times. He adds, “Cleaning up (school areas) in the morning is the most tiring. You will see all the rubbish littered everywhere.”

It is a harsh and upsetting fact that these sefless “unsung heroes” are paid peanuts for the amount of work that they do. According to statistics from The Straits Times ,part-time cleaners only earn $500 a month while full-time cleaners earn $1000 a month. Another cleaner who only wanted to be known as Mdm Kalarani, 67, says, “I take this job because I don’t have any other skills and I only have primary six education.”

According to Mdm Kalarani, she has “cleaned everything from vomit to used sanitary pads to bloodstains to rotting leftover food”. Sadly, she has never seen an increase in her pay. In fact, she adds that with the recent inflation, she has had to scrimp and save even more.

Nur Liyana Ya’acob, 19, a final year student from Singapore Polytechnic confesses that she feels “sinful and guilty” when she sees elderly cleaners, “especially those who can barely walk straight” struggling to perform their cleaning duties. However, she believes that some of them choose to take up such jobs out of their own free will. Some youths, like Esther Teo, 20, a first year National University of Singapore student, echoes Nur Liyana’s sentiments and readily admits that today’s youths “have it much easier than our elders”.

Much depends on the role models young people here, it seems.

What do parents have to say about this issue? Mrs Gladys Chong, 53, private tutor and mother of two teenage daughters, believes that her girls “learnt it the hard way” after she and her husband have discontinued the employment of domestic helpers five years ago. “In the beginning, I had to constantly keep nagging and reminding them. Now, I don’t even have to tell them twice because they are much more responsible and sensible when it comes to cleaning up.”

Mdm Hapifah Bte Arshad, 54, a cashier at a local convenience store, believes that parents should set good examples so that their children will learn the right things. “Manners matter. If your children see you saying ‘thank you’ after a cleaner has cleaned your table, they will naturally follow. It’s important to remember that children mimic parents’ behaviour”.

Mrs Pamela Tay, 58, a nurse, hopes that youths will be more appreciative and thankful towards our cleaners. “Singapore owes its ‘Clean and Green City’ title to them.