It goes without saying. The cleanliness of a country’s capital says a lot about the place and its people. It is often the first place that leaves a lasting impression on visitors.
Samoa is no exception. And in Apia, a hardworking man name Maselino Taiao plays a critical role in keeping Apia clean and beautiful.
Armed with a bin, broom and a smile, the man with the broken jandals parades up and down Beach Road day in and day out to tidy up the place.
He starts work at 3 o’clock before the sun rises. He starts picking up rubbish from Vaiala going to Matautu, John Williams building, Maluafou, Malifa, Moto’otua, Tauese and infront of the government building.
“I start early because it’s much cooler around that time and there is no traffic,” Mr. Taiao told the Samoa Observer.
He doesn’t use a car or bus to do his work.
The father of two walks with his equipment in the early hours of the morning, everyday from road to road until he finishes work at 5.30pm.
“When the sun gets too hot, I stop under a tree for some shelter then I continue my walk. I pick up any kind of rubbish on the road especially plastics being thrown on the road by people in cars and children who walk to school…it’s my job to clean up after them.”
It’s been more than a year since Mr. Taiao worked as a “rubbish picker.” That’s what he calls himself.
The 46-year-old said people have become so used to littering.
“I sometimes ask myself how hard can it be for people to put their rubbish in the bin?” said Mr. Taiao.
“I’m not complaining about the nature of my work because this is how I get paid but it’s just a concern seeing people over the years recklessly throwing rubbish out the window as if its normal. I guess it is normal for some to do so but things can be a lot easier and cleaner if we all work together.”
From his experience, Mr. Taiao said he’s found that young people are some of the worst culprits.
From all that walking and picking up rubbish every day, Mr. Taiao gets paid $220 a week.
It might seem a lot but the father said its just enough for him to get by for a week.
Like many parents, Mr. Taiao’s priorities include lunch money for his daughters; food on the table everyday and the rest of his salary is saved.
According to the labourer, the job has its own risks.
“Dogs can easily attack me when I walk the road during these hours,” said Mr. Taiao.
“I manage to get away with the help of my broom stick. But like I said there is no guarantee for me or that I have a backup plan if I get injured from this.
“It’s a risk that you take when you need work.”
From the village of Tiavea – living in Matautu, Mr. Taiao takes pride in his job.
He said while many people don’t always appreciate the rubbish being picked up, he enjoys listening to tourists who praise Samoa for being clean.
“When I hear tourists commenting about how clean Samoa is, I feel happy because I know I played my part in doing that,” Mr. Taiao said.
“Its hard work walking everyday in the past year but it’s a great feeling when you look back and see that we have a clean town. I’m proud of that.”
Sun or rain, Mr. Taiao will always be pushing that rubbish bin, working. He uses a rain coat during rainy days and when the sun gets too hot he stops for a few minutes under a bus shelter or tree to get some shade.
But there isn’t much time to waste.
There is so much rubbish to be picked up in Samoa.