Turn Samoa around

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NIE COLUMNIST: 

Quenjule Slaven.

 

After participating in the Human Rights Freedom poster competition last week, I had a revelation. 

You see every morning before I go to school or work at the shop, I read the comics while eating breakfast. 

More than usual, a newspaper headline grabs my attention about the battled child vendors in our own backyard. 

But did you know that children are born with rights to an education and the right to have a say on the issues that affect their lives? 

We, the children, have the freedom to attend school, but in my country, some children are victims of child labour.  If we continue to easily accept that children vendors are not going to school, then this will most likely create an acceptance in our beliefs, that it’s okay not to get an education. 

My generation, the young people of today, are and will be facing, the consequences of an uneducated society in the future, more so now than ever.  Martin Luther King once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.” 

To get a better understanding about child vendors, I decided to interview a shy boy on the streets of Apia selling stuff in the hot sun.  This is what he had to say: 

“My name is Tala.  I am twelve years old.  I sell ear buds, matches and Samoan fans.  My day starts early on the streets of Apia.  I work 8-10 hours on the school days and longer hours on Fridays and Saturdays because it’s busier.  I barely have time to study or play sports with my friends.  I work because it is the only way to support my family.  This is because my father is sick and my mother only has a limited income from the crafts she makes and I sell.  I always think about this question, “Am I still a child?”  I want to be like other kids, playing, laughing and enjoying life with little responsibilities and work.  Maybe tomorrow will be better.”   

After talking to Tala that day, a question stuck out like a sore thumb for me.  

“If my family needed my income to survive, would I quit school and go to work?”  Without a doubt in my mind, I would honestly answer YES!  So who am I to judge? For most of these children, they haven’t had a decent meal or education because there is no money.  But the thought of kids as young as five years old with no shoes, selling merchandise on the unsafe streets to support their families, deeply touched me because of the poverty they endured. I think about how blessed I am to have parents who provide me with all I could ever want. I don’t think I shall ever take anything for granted again.   

I asked another little girl named Pele about her dreams for the future. She looked at me expressionless.  I suppose most of these child vendors never think about their future and why would they?  Their childhood is stolen, but they should know that getting an education should never be taken away from them.  As a young person, I doubt that I would have the power to do anything about this problem. I thought that anything I did do, would probably have minimal impact.  But I still have hope.   

I am not here to play the blame game or point fingers. Truth be told I wouldn’t know where to start!  With the support and encouragement of my parents, who told me I could do whatever I set my mind and energy to, I was determined to try and help out. 

An innovative solution I shared with my parents was a support group for the child vendors.  I proposed a group of volunteers (teachers, students, parents, etc.) to meet somewhere in town to help teach simple literacy and Maths to some of the children vendors for about an hour after school.  By profession my mother is a retired school teacher and she is willing to help me reach my goal.  The best part about teaching these kids, it would be totally free of charge. 

There is a future for which we are accountable.  Turning a blind eye and ignoring the problem will not vaporise child vendors from Samoa. I believe education is the key.  If there is no effort of change today, my generation will struggle in the future with issues of child neglect, human rights abuses and with the way things are going, an increase of people in POVERTY!  

Nevertheless, I love my country.  I believe the future belongs to those who prepare for it today.  

Well, if not us, then who?  

If not now, then when?  When the country gives to the children, in return these same children will grow up and give back to the country.  Well, that’s the idea, right?  

Together (government, adults and teens), we can eliminate poverty, protect human rights and educate the children of Samoa.  Let’s try and step out of our comfort zone and persevere! 

 

*If you have any reading books, math books, exercise books, pencils or an unused place in town that you would like to donate to educate child vendors, please email me at squenjule@gmail.com.  Please share your thoughts/ideas with me, so working on this project won’t be too overwhelming.

© Samoa Observer 2016

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