Barrow boys’ leader

Wheelbarrow boys, a good number of whom are actually grown man, are an integral part of the daily operations at the Suva Municipal Market.

Without them, things would simply not run as efficiently in perhaps the busiest spot in the Capital City.

The men who cart produce in and around the vicinity of the bustling market have been led over the past seven years by Jone Savakasa.

As president of the Suva Crime Free Wheelbarrow Association, Vakasa has been a vital part of efforts to improve wheelbarrow services within the market and has helped strengthen the link with the nearby community police post and Suva City Council.

Most of the wheelbarrow boys come from impoverished backgrounds and some have had run-ins with the law over the years.

Vakasa has had his work cut out working alongside authorities in trying to keep them working within the parameter of the law and instill in them a sense of pride in their work.

“I always keep telling them that this job is just like any other one out there. We are trying to make them become more professional while being proud of what they do,” said the 53-year-old.

“Some of them were street kids so we monitor them and try to get them to abide by our constitution,” explained Savakasa.

“The main thing is we want them to become better people, work hard and help their individual families.”

With his parents and nine siblings, Vakasa left his native island of Matuku in Lau in 1974 for Viti Levu.

The family worked for a number of years on sugarcane farms in the Nadi area before moving to Suva.

Vakasa went on to get married, found a job with the Public Works Department in 1984 as a general maintenance man but had to leave in 2004 because of health reasons.

When his health improved, he had a growing family to worry about and decided to try out the work of wheelbarrow boys which eventually brought in the money needed for daily expenses.

“We make money every day here. We may not make as much as others but at least it’s something to take home to our families,” said the father-of-eight.

Vakasa is also supporting his 88-year-old father at his humble home in Cunningham.

The wheelbarrow work at the market was once chaotic and without any guiding authority with many operating without licences.

Errant workers who had issues with substance abuse and petty crime have been disciplined by the association.

From more than 200 wheelbarrow boys 10 years ago, there are now only 90 registered wheelbarrow workers who attend weekly Tuesday meetings with stakeholders including the police and the SCC in efforts to streamline their work.

The wheelbarrow workers can easily be seen with their brightly coloured reflector vests and the ease with which they meander through crowds with wheelbarrows laden with produce.

Wheelbarrow boys now have their identification cards to allow members of the public to know who it was that served them in case of emergency situation.

The Matuku native said getting proper gear was always a challenge for members of the association.

“We have had support from NGOs and the government over the years and we are very grateful for that but we are always looking for sponsors to help with gear like reflector vests and proper footwear.”

Meanwhile, the wheelbarrow brigade of Suva will forge on with their vital work.