The former street vendor aspiring to be a lawyer

Life can be tough for Apia’s street vendors and very few opportunities come their way in terms of education or even employment.

And 16-year-old Jay Semo, who lived in Leone with his step-parents and eight siblings, has seen it all. He attended Falefitu Primary School from Year 1-8 and then never went back to classes after Year 8.

In an interview with the Samoa Observer, he said life after Year 8 became very difficult as he followed the wrong crowd and dropped out of school.

But his life turned around when he met his American friend Marlo Stivers, whom he described as his good Samaritan and saw the interview as an opportunity for him to acknowledge her.

"I'm very grateful for this interview so I can acknowledge my friend from America," Mr Semo said.

"Her name is Marlo Stivers and she had reached out to me and turned my life around to become a better person and a student at Tesese."

Mr Semo said that he met Ms Stivers in a cafe at the A.C.C. Building and they would meet every day and get to know each other.

"Every day we would meet up from around 1-3pm and since we met, Marlow has learned about Samoa and the language because of me," he added.

"I taught her a bit of the Samoan Language and now she has helped all the street vendor kids by buying them food and things they need because I know she loves them."

Mr Semo calls Ms Stivers a good Samaritan, who saved ihm and led him back to church after he roamed aimlessly on the streets of Apia for three years.

Prior to meeting the American, he was a street vendor in town who sold goods with other children, and was not ashamed of the life he lived as it was his only means of survival.

People would mock him and call him “thief” but the abuse didn’t dissuade him as it was a life that his whole family lived through.

"I was a street vendor and I’m not embarrassed to say that I was because it was the life that my parents came through, my cousins and our village," he emphasised. 

"I’m not ashamed to say that I was a child vendor or street vendor. No, I’m not ashamed because it’s how I made a living. 

"I delivered goods in town because it provided for me. I was in town selling loafers for some money to buy me something to eat. 

"I prefer people calling me a street vendor or a child vendor than people saying ‘there, there’s the kid that was stealing in town’.

"I would rather hear people talking and saying, ‘he’s a child vendor’ than people mocking me when I pass by saying, ‘there’s the thief who stole in town’. No, I don’t want that, it’s shameful!”

To this day Mr Semo believes there is nothing wrong with living the life of a street vendor.

"I like being called a child vendor because I believe that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it, we deliver goods in town and roam town and we’re not breaking any law in the form of stealing.

Ms Stivers, when contacted for comment by the Samoa Observer, spoke fondly of her Samoan friend and his colleague street vendor children while indicating that she has been living in Samoa for a year and has helped a lot of children. 

"I’m normally a very private person but I help a lot of children around the world and somehow I’ve become a magnet for the neediest children," she said. 

"I’ve lived here for a year and I’d gotten to know the children downtown and Jay just won my heart because I found out that he was homeless and I wanted to get him off the streets and back into school.

“So I told him that as long as he does well in school, I will pay for his schooling until he gets to law school or whatever school he decides to go to."

Currently, Mr Semo lives in Sinamoga with another family, who he said loved him and took him in as one of their own. 

He said he met the family in 2017 and they have been a blessing and an encouragement to him. "The family that I’m living within Sinamoga isn’t my family but I’m grateful to the family for their love for me because if they haven’t reached out to me, I wouldn’t know where I’d be today," he emphasised.

"This family encouraged me when I felt that I couldn’t and they were there for me in what I believe were the challenges in my life."

He also said that since he enrolled at the Tesese Institute and lives in Sinamoga, he hardly goes to town except to do some printing at the Samoa Stationery and Books [S.S.A.B.] shop.

"I only go to town when I have school work I need to print, but then straight after that I go home," he added.

"Marlo pays for my taxi fare from home to school and back home."

Mr Semo said he chose to enrol at the Tesese Institute because he believes that is where he needs to start in order to achieve his life-long dream of becoming a lawyer. 

"I chose Tesese because I want to achieve my dream to become an attorney general (lawyer) to help with Government matters.

"I believe there are some lawyers out there who are not honest with their jobs but I want to change that and be as honest as I can be."

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