Behind the news: Signs on the street

The Suva bus stand are used by some homeless as a sleeping place. Picture: ATU RASEA

ON any given day, a lot of things can be witnessed on our dusty and potholed town and city streets.

Look attentively. One of the easily spotted things is the growing number of cars on the road and the traffic congestion this phenomenon creates.

If you leave within the Suva-Nausori corridor, you’d notice how our road jams are getting longer, starting earlier and continuing late into the evening. What used to be a 30-minute trip from Suva to the Tebara town of Nausori is now a dreadful two-hour drive.

I hardly catch the bus these days because of my incessant dislike for rickety things that belch out toxic fumes and for the love of my precious pair of lungs and sanity.

Nevertheless, I experience the frustration everyone else goes through during the rush hour, every day. On Thursday night, while I was travelling home, I spotted a vehicle career berthed gracefully in port and wondered how the imported cars she came with and others that are imported every few weeks would fit on our already limited road network.

I guess we can reluctantly admit that the never-ending peak hour traffic jams we have on our roads and streets is nothing but the inherent result of our acceptance of modernity and a life of comfort and luxury that we espouse. Therefore, the problem is here to stay and won’t go away anytime soon.

So each time we get stuck in traffic and find the whole episode distressing we should not forget that the congestion is somewhat our own making or beyond our control. It is directly related to our desire to pursue life in a way that inevitably causes roads to bust at its seams and in the process – overwhelm the fragile environment.

On the other hand, road congestion may not necessarily be the result of the volume of cars or the roads we have but because of the order dictated by economic and productivity ideals. We all start work around the same time and our children start classes around the same time too. Then all students and workers knock off the same time too. We all start church services at the same time and our shops opens and close around the same time.

This determined synchronicity inevitably pushes everyone to the road at the same time, in the morning and in the afternoon/evening and makes traffic congestion beyond our ability to control it. It’s no wonder that we curse ourselves and police makers when traffic flow is slow moving yet it keeps getting worse and out of control.

Congestion is a reality on our streets. The other thing on our streets that I’d like to talk about is the number of homeless children we have on them.

This week letter writer, Sailosi Naewe of Nausori expressed concern over the growing number of street urchins in Suva. On a particular day, he saw seven young boys sleeping on flattened cardboard boxes beside the Curio and Handicraft Centre while four were awake and sipping a can of alcohol and smoking away.

This has become a common sight over the years. In June last year, the media reported that close to 20 people including children as young as nine years old were sleeping under the Stinson Bridge in Suva City every night.

These boys have been sleeping on various parts of the capital for many years. They don’t have any intention of returning home or do not have a family home to go to. Some have been rejected by their families.

On the streets, they find acceptance and love they did not find at home. But the streets are not safe spaces for children so young people face threats such as exploitative labour practices, drug and alcohol, discrimination and injustices, crime and violence, sexual exploitation and harassment and an extreme lack of protection and love. Over time, life on the streets become the very opposite of a safe, secure and happy home.

Each time we see a street kid, begging for money and food or engaging in mischief, we must know he or she is part of a process
and was driven to the streets by a key factor or number of factors.

But what is most important is to see it as an opportunity to contribute to meaningful change, even if incremental.
The growing street kid problem is the street’s peculiar way of sounding alarm bells, warning us that things are not OK and that
the family, the basic fabric of society is gradually breaking down.

Other reasons could be our economic situation, urbanisation rate, unemployment numbers, income distribution and poverty
levels, social policy and political instability. That’s for us to find out and it needs in depth research. Whatever the underlying determinant may be, for the young person roaming, sleeping and living off the streets, it is about choosing between the comfort
of the home and the acceptance of the streets, and which out of the two provides the best opportunity to survive and a sense of

We look up to our law makers, policy makers and community leaders to come up with an effective response strategy that would
protect and support our street kids as humans and address street kids as a niggling social issue.

On one hand society will want to salvage street children and give them a safe and loving space to realise their full potential. On the other society may view them as threats, failure and a nuisance that need to be removed from the streets and get institutionalised.

Between these two differing views, lie our responsibility to contribute to change for the care for our fellow humans who may
have failed us but still have the capacity to be good and productive citizens.

Until we meet on this same page same time next week, stay blessed, stay healthy and stay safe.

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