Poor living conditions, street vendors and what they tell us about hardship and poverty in Samoa

The promise of better homes for more than a hundred families made on the front page of the Weekend Observer yesterday is a positive development we can all appreciate. Coming at a time when so many families are facing hardships and difficulties as a result of the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, as well as the increasingly difficult weather patterns, the gesture is timely and heartwarming.

In Samoa today, the gap between the rich and the poor is growing wider and often there is no better reflection of this widening gap than where people live.

Don’t get us wrong; there are plenty of flash houses just as there are several mansions and castles in this country. But what will not go on posters and postcards about beautiful Samoa are the squalor-like dwellings many of the poorest people in Samoa call home. There are many of them too – even in and on the outskirts of the Apia Township.

But if you cannot see them, all you have to do is look at the Village Voice section of this newspaper week in and week out. These pictures don’t lie about the reality on the ground; they remind us that poverty is very, very real in paradise.

Although we don’t have people dying from starvation, the fact is life for so many poor families in Samoa is extremely difficult they can barely afford housing. And those pictures reflect the daily struggles and hardships for many families. They tell a story about hardships and suffering.

The good news is that help is on the way for more than hundred and fifty families – including some featured in the Samoa Observer's Village Voice. The Government has apparently allocated $1 million for this purpose through the second stimulus package in response to the effects of COVID-19 economic downturn, working with the Adventist Disaster Relief Agency (A.D.R.A.) as the implementing agency. A.D.R.A's Director, Su’a Julia Wallwork, said the project targets families with no income, no electricity or water supply and in cases where there are ten people living in a small shack.

 “I think Government’s assistance is very timely especially when the focus is to help Samoa prepare and try and reduce the risks of being impacted with the pandemic that is affecting the world right now,” she said.

“We are intervening at the right time to help the vulnerable, to give them a chance to be able to keep the hygiene level reasonable. The levels of vulnerability vary, in some cases; a family is vulnerable because they are isolated from the rest of the community because they don’t have the resources, so they are the ones left behind.”

A good Government is one that doesn’t leave anyone behind. And the Government reaching out to offer a helping hand to some of the more vulnerable members of the community is a noble gesture. But is it enough? Will one million tala take care of all the families who need help? We doubt it.

This project needs many more millions. We only wish that the Government would stop wasting taxpayers’ monies on other white elephant projects – like the Tiavea Airport, Satitoa Wharf and others - and use that money instead to help the people who really need it.

Let us be reminded today that the existence of hardship and poverty in Samoa is well documented. “Despite progress in big picture economic growth and within high level development framework, there is disparity in development outcomes particularly in rural and remote areas,” Samoa’s first State of Human Rights Report revealed recently. “Approximately 20 per cent of Samoa’s population lives below the basic needs poverty line (B.N.P.L), with the higher proportion of rural populations falling below the B.N.P.L. Basically, this means that about 1 in every 5 Samoans lives in poverty.”

That’s right, one in five Samoans live in poverty according to this report sanctioned by the Government and launched by Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi himself. If that were the state of play a few years ago, can you imagine how worse off things would be now given the impact of the coronavirus?

The signs are there. More and more young children are ending up on the streets begging and hawking those cheap goods to try and make some money for their families. Many of them live a life of desperation and want.

The concerns expressed by a Church Minister on page 3 of Saturday’s Samoa Observer about street vendors and how aggressive they have become are directly related to poverty, hardship and want. Those children would not be there if they had a choice. Those parents would not have allowed their children to be street vendors if there was a better option.

Of course the Government will say they are lazy. And of course we’ll be accused of misleading the public and trying to come up with stories to sell newspapers.

But then what’s new? The reality is out there for all to see.

Many of us like to paint a flattering picture of the beautiful paradise Samoa – which can be true - when the truth is that bubbling just beneath the surface is the reality some people would rather ignore. It has everything to do with desperation, hardship, poverty, which some people want to turn a blind eye to and pretend everything is okay.

Let’s be brutally honest here, the skyrocketing crime statistics especially in robbery, thefts and other petty crimes tell a story.

A commitment to improve the living conditions for some families is commendable but it will take much, much more than one million tala in housing assistance to fix these problems.

What do you think? Have a wonderful Sunday Samoa, God bless!




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