Message from an 83-year-old beggar

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

The bitter sadness of reading about the plight of an 83-year-old beggar on the streets of Apia published on the pages of this newspaper a few days ago is a sign of the times. Published under the headline “Samoa’s oldest beggar,” in an ideal world the story of Isaia from Alamagoto shouldn’t be happening in “paradise.”

We say this because if Samoa is truly blessed as our leaders claim, we shouldn’t have any beggars. Anywhere. 

But at his tender age where most people would be at home and cared for by their loved ones, Isaia proves that there is a lot of work for our leaders to do which include sorting out problems like poverty and the growing hardship among families crippling them. 

You see, over the years, Isaia has become one of the most common faces on the side of the roads of Apia where he shamelessly begs for a living. So we asked him a few questions.

 “Life is hard nowadays and everything is expensive,” he said. “If you don’t work, you will end up starving.”

Work? Since when did begging become work in Samoa?

Well for Isaia, he has no other option so that he obviously feels this is his purpose in life. Asked if he does not feel like it’s time to stay home and be cared for, he said no.

 “I don’t want to be a burden to my children. So I find my own way of earning money and to help my family. Most people make fun of what I do and I don’t get money from people most of the time. Some of them think I’m crazy…”

Crazy or not, the truth is that desperation knows no end. It does not differentiate between people, their ages and where they come from. Stuck in a rut called poverty and want, people will do anything to survive. Isaia is a classic example. 

You see when people see begging as a way to survive, you really have to worry.

Especially in a country where more and more young children are resorting to a life of wanton crime and hawking cheap goods on the streets to get by. This is not normal. It shouldn’t be.

And that’s what we should remind ourselves today. Stories like Isaia are not normal. It should be a wake up call to our leaders.

Come to think, this is why we find it absolutely ridiculous that this government continues to waste millions to pay political appointments and ignore the cost of abuse and corruption. This is the price people pay. More and more people will resort to a life of begging to get by. 

The images of children harassing total strangers on the streets at all sorts of hours to make a tala were never part of the Samoan landscape until recently.

They are images to be ashamed of. They are images from third world country where people are living in slums, eating dust and dirt. 

Yet that’s happening here in Samoa today. 

Take a trip to Vaitele, Taufusi and Fugalei - yes folks you don’t have to go far - they are right smack in the middle of the Apia Township as if they’re there to remind us about reality.

In complete contrast, down at the car park of the government building and other government houses, the line up of vehicles being used by government officials is so impressive you cannot help but marvel. Judging from such a show of luxury, abuse and elaborate spending, it’s not hard to guess where the focus and priorities of this government are. That’s anything but the people. 

We know this is depressing talk for a Friday. We know we’ve said this time and time again but this is what’s happening in this country and we cannot ignore it.

The rich and the corrupt are advancing at an unbelievable pace while the “poor” and the “idiots” have been left behind to fend for themselves. They’re hurting. Yet it’s almost like they don’t exist. 

Now, think of the high reputation the government has raised Samoa to both regionally and internationally. Think of Samoa’s economic success story that was unrivalled in the Pacific a few years ago. They were achievements to be proud of.

But what has happened? Where did we go wrong? 

The truth is that in the some villages today, the standard of living is unacceptably poor. Given their meagre resources, people can hardly cope with the demands of everyday life so that their hearts are crying out, yearning for someone out there to hear them. 

Is the almighty government listening? Or have their ears and eyes become tightly shut to the plight of the poor? 

An 83-year-old beggar is not something to be proud. And when you have children pedaling goods on the streets instead of attending school, there is definitely something wrong somewhere. The message from Isaia is this: Wake up Samoa before it’s too late.

© Samoa Observer 2016

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