The Managing Director of Adventist Development and Relief Agency Samoa (ADRA) Su’a Julia Wallwork is speaking up about the struggles that many families are facing, particularly the street vendors.
Su’a said most people do not know what these children are going through and the real reason why parents have decided to let their children do the selling rather than them.
“Most of these children (street vendors) they know me by name because I help them,” she said.
“Every time I see them I make them sit outside while I go inside the shop and then I buy them food because I don’t give them money, I give them food.
“I even followed some of them home to Leone and believe it or not we (ADRA) even build some of these street vendors’ houses, because I had found them living in torn down shelters.
“[And] it is my biggest reward is to see people get a better life”
Su’a also said that she is trying to find a project that will help these children, especially their parents.
“I want to upskill the mothers so that the children have a better chance, because the children are only on the street because the parents are unable to earn a living,” she said.
“So I am almost done on deciding on a concept now for a project where we can reach out to train them, because a lot of these women probably dropped out of school, have no awareness of family planning and in most cases little knowledge of how to earn a living.
“I always talk to the mothers of these children especially the street vendors from Leone because that is where most of them are from.”
Su’a also said she spoke to the mothers because it is her habit to check up on them to see how they were doing.
“I asked them (mothers) “why do you send you child out on the street?” and they said to me, “If I go and sell these products I will never be able to sell anything, but when I send my children, then people will feel sorry for them and then they buy the products that the children are selling.”
Asked if this is the right thing for a mother to do Su’a said that as a mother herself, she cannot be judgemental towards the decisions made by the mothers.
“That woman knows that she has to feed her children and she is using the only means she has that will help her provide for her family,” said Su’a.
“[And] as a mother I know they (mothers) are not leaving their children to go by themselves they hang around where their children are.
“For example at Paddles at night, the children are selling but their mothers are sitting at a corner watching their children, even outside McDonalds, they do that.
“So as a mother what can you do? “
She spoke about one of the poorest countries in the world as an example.
“In countries of extreme poverty like Somalia, I remember reading an article from there where a mother gave birth to twins and then in the end she had to make the hardest decision of her life and that is to decide which one of her twins she would leave to die so that she could breastfeed the other one.
“So what do you do when you are poverty stricken and you have no other resources?
“This is the only thing that these mothers rely on to provide for their families.
“Who knows maybe they only made five tala, six tala a day but it doesn’t matter to them because that five tala or six tala puts food on the table.”
As to what she thinks is causing this problem, Su’a said it is the lack of opportunities to get these people into jobs.
“Well to start with, it is the merchant who needs their merchandise so they provide that opportunity and then these poverty-stricken families see that as an opportunity to make some money,” she said.
“Throughout the years I have paid for the school fees of their children to go to school but they always revert to selling things on the street.
“Why? because even if people put these children through school, the mothers still need to feed them and them being in school doesn’t give the money that she gets from them selling on the streets to provide for her family.”
Su’a also believes that as a mother they will do anything to make sure that their families are taken care of.
“If I was to put myself in those mothers’ shoes and I knew I have nowhere else to go and nobody to turn to, I’d be forced to do the same thing, because from that five tala, six tala I can buy bread and sugar to feed my children and I have seen that because I go to these people’s homes,” she said.
“I have seen it and witnessed them struggle to get by each day and there is no big hope for them, they just live day by day.
“The main thing that breaks my heart, is people like us we have a regular means of livelihood and then you think of those parents, these street vendors’ parents, they cannot sit back and say “Oh my son is going to be a doctor, teacher or an accountant.
“They can’t even dream of the future of their children because they know there is no opportunity for their children and that brings us all the way down to these children.
“All they think about is how many sales they can make so that they can provide for their family.
“I ask them (street vendors) what they want to be in the future, and they say they want to be taxi drivers.
“[And] this shows that these children don’t dream beyond what they see every day because they don’t have the knowledge or awareness of something bigger than that.”
Su’a also said the sad thing about these families situation is that no matter how they struggle, their families always expect them to give things for faalavelaves.
“Another thing that saddens me is that a lot of people get annoyed with these children because they keep on begging and push their products but people should know that there is a reason why these children do what they do,” she said.
“I have people who come to tell me not to waste my time on these children and not to give them anything, but I tell them not to say that.
“I tell them that they are lucky that their children have food on the table and they are living a better life but these children they have nothing.”
And a solution to this problem?
Su’a said there should be opportunities for parents to earn a living.
“These parents should be up skilled by giving them training programmes and providing them with opportunities where they can earn a living so that life will be better for them and most importantly their children can go to school and dare to dream of a brighter and bigger future.”