Desperation knows no boundaries.
For two young street vendors hustling on the streets of Apia, shame is not a word in their vocabulary.
Fili and Latasi have become quite thick skinned when it comes to ridicule and taunts from members of the public who don’t appreciate being hassled about buying from the young boys. When the Samoa Observer caught up with them, they said being on the streets is their way of life.
“People go to work but we come here to sell this stuff because this is what we do,” Fili said.
His story in particular is a sad one.
Fili said his mother died not long after he was born. A few years ago, his father collapsed at work and the responsibility of looking after him has since fallen on his shoulders and that of his brother.
At 11 years old, he feels that he’s become quite good at selling goods on the streets. He sees it as his way of life. “My older brother is fifteen and he is also a vendor. We have been doing this ever since we could remember,” he said. “We both went to Vaimoso Primary back in the days but now…not anymore. “All I want is a good life for me, my brother and my father who is sick.” Fili said his love for his father motivates him. “It’s what puts food on the table,” he said. “On Friday last week, I was in town the whole night. I was trying to sell all of this … I need money to feed my father.
“I was beaten by some old drunken men in front of the bank and they took all my coins. I was crying and my nose was bleeding. “Then a taxi driver chased them away… he (taxi driver) told me to go home…he gave me $5 to buy food. I felt really sick.”
But Fili said what happened was just another day at work.
To Fili, every sene makes a difference. “I am happy that I am able to help in providing my family’s needs. Everyone who gives me ten sene or a tala helps my family. That’s what motivates me to keep going.”
Asked if he did not want to attend school, his response was firm.
“This is way better than going to school. We would have no food at home if we went to school.” Fili though has dreams. And that involves learning to speak English properly. “One night outside one of the nightclubs at Matautu, there was a palagi man I met. He started speaking in English and asking me something…I didn’t understand.
“I felt humiliated after and was ashamed while some of the boys were teasing at me. I walked away slowly, I think that’s the only reason why I need to go back to school – is to understand the English language.
I am positively sure that the language barrier made them walk away and I lost a sale.” Fili’s father is his single motivation. “My dad fell short of providing a better life for me and my older brother because his weekly income was not more than $30,” he said.
“Then one day he collapsed at work and that’s why we decided to work in selling this stuff so that we could help our sick father. I once went to our neighbor’s house begging for money to buy my father some panadols.
“But what happened was that instead of giving me money they set their dogs on me…then my dad told me not to go to that neighbor’s house again.”
As long as he could help his father, Fili said he would never get tired of walking the streets, asking people to buy from him. As for Latasi, he said his father asked him to help sell green coconuts. “I came with my father and he’s waiting in front of a shop,” he said.
“I go to Saina Primary School. My father told me to come and help him in selling coconuts. “I have two younger brothers at home…I love them so much. Most of the time we don’t have enough money and food at home. That’s why I want to help my father.”
Latasi said people are not always nice. “There are people who abuse us and swear at us,” he said. “But there are also people who are nice to us like this lady who gave me five tala and told me to go home.
“On days when our sales are not good, I’m always grateful to kind hearted people who see how poor we are.”