Sunday, January 16, 2011

Displacing the vendors is counterproductive to Government’s programmes

 (Originally published in Guyana’s Kaieteur News on 16 January 2011)

Life is so cruel sometimes. Imagine going to work one day to make money to feed your children and a bomb going off nearby that kills some people, injures others and scares everyone in the nation. And that is not the end of the story. Next you are told you cannot work anymore – your work is being shut down – and it is obvious that everyone in the area where the bomb exploded is being punished for what the bomber did.

How will you feed your children? It is not like you make tons of money selling your goods at the market, but you try to make that money go far. You have been a vendor for years and do not have another trade to fall back on if you cannot vend. You have invested a substantial amount of money into your little business only to be told that a cruel twist of fate – of which you were not the least bit responsible – has stolen your only source of livelihood.

Moreover, you are a single mother with no other form of income. One day’s earnings lost from your vending means in all likelihood that you would not be able to buy food for your children. It has been several days now and the safe life you built for you and your children is now falling to pieces. Will you be able to pay your rent? You are scared and desperate. Where do you turn and how do you get your safe life back?

This story is just that – a story. However, it is likely the story of many of the displaced vendors of Stabroek Market. The truth of the matter is that a majority of humans all over the world would be in the same dire financial strait if told they could no longer ply their trade. Likewise, a day or more of missed work – for a majority of people around the world – could mean the loss of home, missed meals and a family without the financial means to survive.

For a single mother, this is a living nightmare. It puts the woman and the children at calamitous risk. At a time when, as a society, there is a fresh outlook on protecting women and children, the circumstances surrounding so many single mothers who are vendors at Stabroek Market is counterproductive to the effort being made to help women make their own way in life.

After spending so much time, effort and money to establish the Women of Worth (WOW) program (a micro-credit loan scheme to help single mothers start and run their own businesses) and to increase the focus on training single women on how to find their way in the workforce, this unsound decision to put so many single mothers out of work in one fell swoop completely undermines all of the hard work to promote their financial independence.

Surely there is a way to allow these vendors to continue their work and provide for their families while providing a safe environment for shoppers. I have visited countries throughout Central America and I always make a point to visit the markets in each country. This is where the culture of the nation can be found. And yes, each city in those countries has a market.

In fact, in many of the smaller inland cities, these markets are where one would buy groceries because there are no grocery stores. When I lived in Guatemala for a few months, I shopped at the local market several times a week because I lived two hours outside of the main city and I had no refrigeration. Today, I shop at the outdoor markets in Texas as well because it is well known that those vendors have the freshest fruits and vegetables.

My point is this, why shut down a thriving part of the Guyanese culture because some criminal-minded person caused death and havoc? The vendors are not responsible for the bomb. Why punish them for something a criminal did? Moreover, is it not giving the criminals what they want when the lives of ordinary citizens are disrupted by their crimes? This situation could and should be handled in a way that causes the least amount of trauma on the vendors.

If crime flourishes in the area where Stabroek Market exists – the problem of fighting that crime lies with law enforcement. The answer is not to shut down the market and put so many people out of work. The answer is to find a way to allow the market to function and eliminate the criminals at the same time. If one vendor is found to be committing criminal acts, shut that one vendor down – not all of them.

This is a major setback for Guyana. It is impossible to have so many working single mothers lose their financial means and the nation not feel the effect of it. If we think this through, what will those single mothers and their children do for money now? How will they feed, clothe and house themselves? This situation actually creates potential for even more lawlessness.

No matter how one approaches the displacement of the Stabroek Market vendors, the action is counterproductive to the very programs and stated desires of the administration. The administration cannot promote the betterment of women by putting them out of business. Likewise, the administration cannot battle crime and at the same time create the potential for more crime.

Imagine the helplessness of watching a government bulldozer knock down the walls of a business that you spent years of toil and sweat building. Imagine the fear of the future – one that had been planned out and looked adequate and respectable, but now you do not even know from whence your next meal will come. It is a bleak future.

That the people’s own government is the one who imposed this bleak future is the saddest part of the story.

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