Driving through Vaitele yesterday next to that multi-million-tala building the government had once promised as a “goldmine” for farmers was a sad experience.
You could not help but feel for the men and women selling fruits, produces and goods on the footpath under what looks like a tent in the boiling sun.
To be honest, it was hard to ignore the look on their faces. One of downhearted-ness and a deep sense of sadness. Perhaps it was a bad day, maybe they were just unhappy or maybe it’s just the way they are.
But that doesn’t make sense. This is Samoa the land of the smiling people.
Well obviously not at Vaitele.
At about 12:30midday, that place was anything but a goldmine. Having cost the government a cool $5.7million tala to build, the building has been handed to a Chinese businessman while the few vendors there have been forced outside.
One elderly man told this writer it was a slow day in terms of business. He was selling ripe bananas and he had made four sales of $2 each. So for all his effort, he didn’t have much to show for it and the look on his face said it all.
Let’s not forget that he would’ve had to pay for the space he had to use – even though it was on the footpath – and then he would’ve also had to pay for transport home. Depending on how far he travelled to get to town, he was unlikely to have made an awful lot by the end of yesterday – if any at all.
But he wasn’t alone. Other farmers had similar stories to tell.
Down the road in front of a big supermarket there, a young girl approached the writer offering some ear buds and lighters. Asked why she wasn’t at school, she said: “I’m here with my mother to earn some money.” She couldn’t be more than 10 years old. The sight was heartbreaking.
But this young girl is among a growing number of young boys and girls hawking goods at all hours of the day. Over the past few years, the number has slowly but surely increased.
At some nights, it breaks your heart when you are about to hop in your car to go home and yet these young children are still hawking around fagusea, koko Samoa and air fresheners. Some of them come so dangerously close to being run over as they now have a new thing of spraying your car tyres expecting you to give them some money.
Ladies and gentlemen, these stories are not new. The trouble is they are becoming all too common in this country. Why are the stories from these people important?
It’s simple really, if you want to know the truth about the state of a country’s economy; it’s best to assess it by the living standards of its ordinary citizens.
And by that we’re talking about farmers, market vendors and ordinary people of this country we see everyday. Their struggles mirror that of many others in this country. All you have to do is read the Village Voice about those stories of perennial hardships and difficulties in accessing very basic things like food, water and money.
Now over the years, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi has repeatedly reassured that Samoa’s economy is “not doing too bad at all.” He reminded that many international organisations have labelled Samoa as the “shining star of the Pacific” because of its economic reforms.
Well that’s nice to know.
Tuilaepa is correct when you drive through Beach Road. You would see all those aid-funded multi-million-tala infrastructures, which your children and their children will slave away to pay in years to come.
In this country, only a small percentage of the population control all the wealth. All the others have little – or none at all.
Among many families in urban and rural areas, the standard of living has become unacceptably poor. Given the lack of money and jobs, they can hardly cope with the demands of everyday life, both financially and emotionally.
That is why you sense such sadness. It is why driving through areas such as what used to be the Vaitele market is always sad. Have a good Wednesday Samoa, God bless!