Samoa’s variety of beggars, hardship and poverty

We’ve all had our experiences. No matter where we are in Samoa – and who we are with – they confront us without any reservations. Their aggressiveness is something else.

The fact is the number of beggars in this country continues to grow everyday. Make no mistake about that. The tough part to accept is that gone are the days when most of the beggars were young out-of-school children who were merely looking for some mikimiki money.

These days, they come in all shapes, sizes and age. They range from kids, teenagers, grown men and women, mothers to elderly men looking to sell goods you can tell don’t belong to them. What’s even more interesting is that the list of excuses continue to grow by the day.

They range from food to transportation fares to all destinations in Samoa, to sick kids needing medication and more. Folks, you name it, they will have it. It’s incredible.

To be fair, sometimes, some of these people genuinely need help. And for many us, we can never say no to a mother who looks desperate with young children in tow. In some cases, a man who desperately needs cash for his child’s medication can also be tolerated. We all need help now and then. These people are the faces of hardship and to some extent poverty in paradise.

Speaking of which, the question of whether poverty exists in Samoa is not new. A lot of people say that this does not exist here because we have plenty of food. Fair enough.

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 hardship and poverty? If they had a choice – apart from getting poorer – would they be so willing to subject themselves to humiliation that comes with begging?

Think about it again. Who likes to beg? It must be one of the most humiliating experiences one must go through. Now think about those young boys and girls who are on the streets every night and 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? For some of these people, they don’t have a choice. They are so poor and are stuck in a rot called poverty, that they are forced to do the unthinkable.

These people deserve a helping hand. We encourage you to open your heart and your wallet if they come around.

But then there are others who don’t deserve help. Let me tell you a story. At Vaitele yesterday while I was sitting in the car, in the space of 10 minutes, three different grown men knocked on the window. The first asked for five tala so he could buy cigarettes. Just like that. He had this look on his face that I actually owed him five tala so he can go and smoke his life away. That was the first one.

Minutes later, another grown man came and said he was collecting money so he could help their church pastor build a new church building. Now that was a first. We’ve heard many stories but this one takes the cake. Why would a church send out people to beg on the streets so they can construct a new building? The man’s excuse was so lame and I could tell from a mile away he was lying.

Then there was the third man. “Uncle,” he said, “do you have some spare change so we can buy a bottle (alcohol) to celebrate the South Pacific Games?” Now that nearly knocked me off my chair.

Keep in mind we had this conversation at 12.15pm on a Monday. Who drinks alcohol at that time? If you don’t have money, why on earth would you expect someone else to give you money to go and get drunk? What is wrong with these people? This sort of mentality is shameful. In fact it is disgraceful.

But it’s become so common. What makes people think they can just beg other people out of their hard-earned cash? Do they not realise the struggles and the sacrifice that people in employment make in order to get paid? Do they not realise that begging is demeaning and that nobody has the right to rob anyone else of their hard-earned rewards?

This is one of the saddest things about Samoa.

Which is ironic because of all the wonderful things Samoa has achieved – and we’ve achieved a lot including the success of the recent Pacific Games – the image of beggars on the streets unfortunately is the impression many visitors to this country will take back with them.

The question is why. If life is so good in Samoa today, why then are there so many beggars on the streets? Why are so many able-bodied men unashamedly lying their way to make a cheap living rather than working to earn money? Does this have a connection to many people resorting to a life of petty crime, theft and robbery?

The truth about Samoa today is that far too many people are struggling to make ends meet. What is happening right now is the gap between the rich and poor in Samoa is getting wider. And this will only get worse if nothing is done now.

What is your solution? Write and share your thoughts with us.

Have a great Tuesday Samoa, God bless!

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