Here at Zenith we feel inspired to tell the stories of Cleaners from around the world; they have fascinating stories, lessons and insight from working behind the scenes to make spaces better. They deal with tangible and intangible dirt and in that process gain a wisdom that deserves to be shared. We salute Cleaners from all over the globe. Here are their stories.
Beyond having 2 master’s degrees, a published book, a university teaching profession and another book on the way, Roberto is a Cleaner. His story is nothing short of incredible. Having fled Chile during Pinochet’s regime in 1977, he, like many others who fled, arrived here with only memories of their lives and professions back home. Although he had been a History teacher back in Chile, he ended up being a cleaner at a school with another Chilean who also happened to once be a teacher. He recalls how the students used to throw wet balls of toilet paper onto the bathroom ceilings for fun and how he and the his friend always had to clean up after their disrespectful shenanigans. One day he and the other cleaner decided to go speak to principal about what they could do to help the students’ behaviour; After all, they were both teachers at heart and felt compelled in some way to figure a way to handle the students’ unruliness. The principle’s response? “You’re only job here is to clean”.
For a while after he ended up cleaning at a gym. He says he loved that time because he enjoyed interacting and talking to different people during his shifts. There he met a girl who was studying at McGill University and they regularly talked when he worked. Taken aback by his evident intelligence, she urged him to apply to do a Masters degree at McGill. So began his journey back into the realm of education, while still working as a cleaner to support himself. He laughed as he told me how for a while he was a teacher at a college here in Montreal and his students to see him cleaning as a janitor after school. Over the years he managed to finish two masters degrees, teach Spanish classes, and be a college and university lecturer.
Many decades later, Roberto is now retired and enjoying the fruits of his labour. However to this day he still works as a Cleaner and goes around the city to clean different spaces. When asked why Roberto simply said “Cleaning can be hard but it isn’t complicated. It helps me relax and keep my body moving and energized so I can focus on writing my next book well. I just love the feeling of making spaces better for other people so they can feel better”.
Roberto is a Cleaner.