Beggars, poverty and elections

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

Four days from the General Elections, there is no denying this simple fact. Life in Samoa is better than most places - near and far. 

Yes despite all the challenges, petty squabbles and problems here and there, we still enjoy a very peaceful existence, something many people around the world can only dream of.

While nobody knows what tomorrow brings or whether we will even get there, it’s safe to say that we have a better chance of arriving than some people, in the Middle East for example – or some other places closer to home. 

And that’s a wonderful blessing for us. We should be deeply grateful every day we wake up to smell the fresh flowers and the aroma of life. 

Indeed, there is plenty of life in Samoa for us to enjoy. We also know that we are mighty, resilient people. That is; regardless of what challenges we face, we always do our best to appear unfazed by it, so we try to make the most of any sad situation.

But as we get closer and closer to the General Elections, there are several issues we should think seriously about. 

One of them in our humble opinion is so in our faces everyday. We are referring to the growing number of beggars and street vendors on the streets at all hours of the day and night. 

It doesn’t matter where we are. We could be sitting at a very flash restaurant eating the most exotic food and suddenly they pop up out of nowhere. 

You could be walking down the streets and they will hassle you. 

You might be sitting in your car and they will knock on the window.

These people are the face of deteriorating poverty and hardship in paradise. 

It’s ironic because for all the wonderful things Samoa has achieved – and we’ve achieved a lot – this unfortunately is the impression visitors to this country will take back with them. 

For sure, it’s nice to be praised; it’s equally wonderful to know that we are blessed but there is no doubt in this writer’s mind the leaders of this country have got a lot of work to do. 

Apart from dealing with poverty, street vendors and finding jobs for the jobless, they also need to look at sorting out such serious problems as child labour, rape, incest, drugs, abuse of women and children, thefts, robberies and so forth. 

When we peel away the top layers of life in paradise, you will find that these problems are getting worse and they demand that we pay some serious attention to them.

The question of whether poverty exists in Samoa is not new. A lot of people say that this does not exist here because we have plenty of food. Fair enough. 

Yet, if you look at the number of beggars on the streets and those street vendors, would they be out there if there was no poverty? 

If they had a choice – apart from getting poorer – would they be so willing to brave the elements just to sell something for a tala? 

Think about those young boys and girls who are on the streets every night, every day? Would they be there if they did not need to? Would their parents have been so ruthless to push them towards danger if they had a choice?

These people don’t have a choice. They are so poor and are stuck in a rot called poverty that they are forced to do the unthinkable.

We repeat: The poverty of jobs, poverty of ways to earn money and poverty of opportunities ultimately results in the poverty of the stomach.

And in a country where there is a growing reliance on money, if you don’t have a job to earn money, you’re bound to go hungry. Your children will end up starving. That’s the bottom line. 

And that’s why these people are on the streets. 

We must never forget the words of Sociologist Pei Tauili’ili Reupena who once upon a time cautioned that poverty, depression and hardships are killing people in Samoa.

 “Poverty, traumatic events, depression and psychological pressure leads to suicide,” he said. “It leads to unstable psychological thinking and people usually struggle. If you’re successful, spiritually, physically, psychologically, you’re always happy. But if there are factors that stand in front of you and interrupt how you survive, it leads to poverty, sickness and sometimes suicide.”

Ironically, Pei raised the point when his opinion was sought over the spike in the number of suicide cases during the recent past. Not a week goes by in Samoa today where there are no cases of suicides. 

The question is why. If life is so good in Samoa today, why are people killing themselves? Why is there so much abuse and domestic violence? Why are so many people resorting to a life of petty crime? Theft? Robbery? And stealing from their work places?

Looking at Samoa today, Pei said far too many people are struggling to make ends meet. He estimates that about 90 per cent of families in Samoa are struggling with the cost of living, low incomes with many of them living in poverty.

“What is happening right now is the gap between the rich and poor in Samoa is getting wide. Only between five to seven families in Samoa are enjoying this ‘economic success’. They call it economic success, I call it a disaster.”

Interesting point. 

What do you think? 

Do you agree? 

Make your vote count!

Have a wonderful Tuesday Samoa, God bless!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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