Plight of street vendors old problem in new year

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

The story titled “Plight of the poor in times of happiness” published on the front page of the Samoa Observer last Friday is the sort of stuff not many of us would be keen on in times like this. 

Which is understandable. What with parties, feasts and many joyful occasions to keep ourselves occupied, why should we bother with the plight of the poor? Why should we care?

Truth be told though, it’s impossible to ignore their plight, especially when it involves such innocent young people – including a pair of young sisters. It’s the sort of story that should make us all stop and think about the reality that is masked in false security being created in Samoa today.

There is no doubt that Apia is a changed town. We have many new and impressive buildings. We have more cars, more palagi houses and many more shops.

But we also have more problems. Among them is the issue of the growing number of young people being thrown onto the streets by their desperate families to sell things so they can contribute to their upkeep.

According to the story in question, many of the children are less than 10 years old. They are out there at all sorts of hours, night and day.

“We all have to do our part to help our family,” Meki said.

Young girls have increasingly become part of the mix. Take Mena and Kalolina for instance.

“We normally go home at 10 p.m,” Mena said. “My twin sister and I are selling ear buds and boxes of matches for $2 tala a packet. The money we get from here we give it to our parents at home.”

“When it is time to go home, my sister and I have to catch a lift. So whoever stops for us on the road, we get a ride with them because we have to be at home.”

“We are used to it; we just have to make sure that we get a lift to our village.”

Let me remind you that we are talking about two young girls here. They are flagging a ride home at 10 p.m. Can you just stop to imagine what could happen to them if someone with bad intentions picks them up?

Now down at the Marina at Matautu, it was well after 11 when the Samoa Observer saw another young boy who identified himself as Lesi. Asked what he was doing out so late, he said it wasn’t late.

“This is normal for me,” he said. “I sometimes go home at 12 or 1 in the morning. This is what I do to help my parents.”

Asked if he’s not afraid of bad and drunk people, he said: “I’m used to dealing with drunken people. I just let them say whatever as long as I get my money.”

Wow, shocking, isn’t it? What kind of parent allows their children to be subjected to such an environment?

The worry in Samoa today is that the cry for the government to do something about the plight of these poor people seems to be falling on deaf ears. We’ve warned time and time again that this problem will only get worse. And it has already. 

We are reminded that this time last year, a video of street vendors beating a homeless man surfaced and it raised many questions. 

One of the most obvious ones was what were these three young boys doing on the dark streets of Apia at 3 a.m.? Shouldn’t they be soundly sleeping in the safety of their homes?

Typical of the government, Prime Minister Tuilaepa strongly downplayed the incident; cracked a few dry jokes about it and then it disappeared.

Now we are in 2018 and we still see the same thing.

Which brings us to the question of when will the government wake up and do something about this? 

It’s sad that because from where we stand, more and more young people are resorting to a life of begging and selling petty goods on the streets to help their families get by.

In the meantime, the government has continued to ignore the waste of millions in projects that don’t work – or projects that are derailed by abuse, mismanagement and corruption. These millions could easily make a massive difference in the lives of the poorest people in this country today, including those young kids on the streets.

Which is sad because we are in a new year and yet an old problem continues to haunt us. What do you think? 

Have a great Thursday Samoa, God bless!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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