Businesswoman Fiti Leung Wai is not losing hope when it comes to dealing with the growing problem of young children selling goods on the streets in Samoa.
Contrary to reports highlighting their bad behaviour, the owner of Samoa Stationery and Books (SSAB), strongly believes everyone has a role to play to turn things around.
For her, it’s about promoting the values of education among the community as a means for young children to work towards a brighter future. One that will see them get excited about educational achievements and opportunities rather than being brought up to accept mediocrity.
Speaking to the Sunday Samoan, Mrs. Leung Wai, who is the Chief Executive Officer of SSAB, said she understands the frustrations many members of the public have about the vendors.
“One day me and my kids went to McDonald’s Drive-thru and some of these kids came up to me asking for money,” she recalls. “I usually give them money but on that day, I was very tired and they came and asked me for money. I gave one of them $5 and then another came and asked for money and I said to them there’s no more money but they insisted."
“So one of my sons wound down the window and told them to go away but they swore at him and this made me really angry."
“I was so angry at the kids and I tried to get them but they ran away.”
Mrs. Leung Wai said such behaviour has become very typical with many vendors. But it’s not the first time she has been a victim.
“For example right from the beginning when I used to have my shop at Lotemau, some of the kids stole stuff from the shop and went and resold them,” she said.
Asked what she believes is the key to addressing the issue, Mrs. Leung Wai was adamant that it’s education.
“Education is the key and it is a human right. Every child is entitled to a good education,” she said.
“I am really for a law that should stop street vendors after a certain period of time of the day but I’m also mindful that there are some people who need the help in terms of money.”
Mrs. Leung Wai said it’s not the children who should be selling this stuff, it’s the parents.
“The parents are responsible for making sure the kids gets a good education,” she sad.
“And good education means they should have enough rest, their minds are refreshed to continue absorbing information and also studying for the following day of school.”
The mother of four went on to say that if she were to have a choice there wouldn’t be any street vendors.
“But I think there is a need in some families financially so it’s really hard,” she said. “I think our Prime Minister used to sell things to make it through life so I can’t really say no, no, no not knowing the inside of the true struggles of other families financially."
“So sometimes there is a need for kids to sell but if I were to be given a choice it would be good to actually stop all that and just let them have rest and continue studying.
Because education is the key and it can open opportunities for them and it can also break the cycle of poverty.”
She believes this is where the S.S.A.B Ambassadors programme comes in.
One of the Ambassadors is Quenjule Slaven who runs a programme to help street vendors read and write.
“I admire her effort to help the street vendors but I’m also happy to help in the sense that we now have a library and welcome her to use our S.S.A.B library to provide that nice environment for kids to learn,” she said.
“We can provide the venue for the kids to come and read and then I can see how I can help these kids too. Because for S.S.A.B, our banner that we carry is an education banner. We like to support reading programmes for a lot of the kids in Samoa and maybe that would be another way I can help.”
Lastly Mrs. Leung Wai reinforced the need for parents to take care of their children.
“The parents should be responsible and I think the community too can assist and contribute in any ways they can,” said Mrs. Leung Wai
“For instance S.S.A.B through making available its library for Quenjule to use and I can also pull in some of the ambassadors to assist but it’s in line with S.S.A.B’s spirit of assisting the education sector in improving education for the kids in Samoa.”
What about charging parents whose children are found on the streets late at night?
“I don’t think that would be a good idea because that would be very hard to enforce,” she told the Sunday Samoan.
“We also have to have practical laws but I believe every member of the public that comes across these street vendors should try and educate and help them."
“I believe it’s every parent’s responsibility to look after their kids and every member of the public should try and encourage the kids to go home and also to prioritise education.”