Paradise and poverty

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

Three days from today, we will say goodbye to 2015. 

When that happens we will look back with joy at some of the triumphs we achieved and hope that the sorrows of the past year will somehow fade into a place where we will remember it no more. 

As we take a look back throughout this year, it’s been a whirlwind of a journey. We’ve enjoyed some highs, we’ve had some fantastic moments and then there are those issues that confront us every day.

We don’t want to sound like a scratched record – trust me sometimes it feels like it – but somehow every time the wet season arrives, it always reveals a number of things. One is the potholes and the bad roads and then there is the sight of people ducking for cover since the rain really exposes the quality of homes they live in.

Don’t get me wrong; many people in Samoa enjoy wonderful homes. So perhaps when I’m talking about the rain exposing the third world nature of some homes, it goes without saying that the issue of poverty immediately springs to mind. We say this because if you live in a squatter-like shelter, chances are you will also struggle to find food – and many other things in life.

We’ve said this before and we will say it again, most people deny the existence of poverty in Samoa. And they have good reason. 

In this country we call home, we are after all extremely blessed with so much fertile soil that anything we plant is bound to grow and yield a harvest. To a large extent, this is precisely what is happening throughout the country. 

Perhaps this is what visitors to these shores refer to when they talk about small Samoa being a ‘paradise’. Not only have we such beautiful and tranquil environment to enjoy, our survival does not need to depend on anyone else. I guess you can say our destiny is in our own hands.

You see, we are not only blessed to live on such fertile soil, we enjoy a peaceful country relatively sheltered from bloody wars, strife and troubles of our neighbours near and far. 

What’s more, our culture of respect, love, va fealoa’i, and our Christian values provide the pillars upon which we stand as a nation. They are unique and they set us apart from the rest of the world. These are things to be proud of. Who doesn’t want to be a Samoan?

But let’s be warned. There are real issues in paradise, which we believe should be at the forefront of our national conversation. It involves the sorting out of such serious problems as child labour, rape, incest, drugs, abuse of women and children, thefts, robberies and so forth. 

When we peel away the top layers of life in paradise, you will find that these problems are getting worse and they demand that we pay some serious attention to them.

Getting back to the question of poverty, a lot of people say that this does not exist in Samoa. Yet, if you look at the number of beggars on the streets and those street vendors, would they be out there if there was no poverty? 

If they had a choice – apart from getting poorer – would they be so willing to brave the elements just to sell something for a tala? Take another look at those young faces who were out there in the rain yesterday? What do they tell us about progressive Samoa?

Think about those young boys and girls who are on the streets every night, every day? Would they be there if they did not need to? Would their parents have been so ruthless to push them towards danger if they had a choice?

They are so poor and are stuck in a rot called poverty that they are forced to do the unthinkable. In a country where there is a growing reliance on money, if you don’t have a job to earn money, you’re bound to go hungry. Your children will end up starving. That’s the bottom line. And that’s why these people are on the streets. 

The point is that no one wants to think about these depressing issues at a time when we have so much to celebrate. 

But it is ignorant of us to ignore them, especially when they are so in our faces.

Now let me tell you a story, yesterday I popped over to the big island of Savai’i for a few hours. The tourism brochures tell us that unless you have been to Savai’i, you haven’t been to Samoa. 

We couldn’t agree more. I’m proud of Savai’i as much as the next Samoan from the big island. 

But there is a real fear that poverty and street vendors, plaguing the streets of Apia, are getting out of hand in Savai’i too. They confront you as soon as you stp out of the ferry. It’s sad. 

It is not the paradise we know.

The reality is that more and more of our people are resorting to begging and a life of street living to get by. As we enjoy the last few days of 2015, let me ask you a question, is this how we want 2016 to be? 

I certainly hope not. 

Take care and be safe, Samoa!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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