Liberian kids risk lives for survival
-As hardship swirls
By Emmanuel wise Jipoh
Liberia’s economic hardship has fueled an uncontrollably rising number of young people selling in between moving vehicles on major routes, regardless of all the dangers they face in the streets.
Hundreds of young people aged between 11 and 35 years old have found street selling, including risking their lives between moving vehicles, as a way of finding daily bread due to poverty here.
Most of them are either high school or secondary school dropouts.
Jobs are scarce here, resulting in a lot of qualified people remaining jobless while the earnings of the few working people can barely cater to them and their families.
A NewDawn newspaper inquiry finds that not all occupations are undertaken by choice, but some are influenced by economic factors.
Selling in traffic has become a common practice in Liberia as many youths are engaged in risky hustles regardless of the dangers.
A U.S. State Department report released last month referenced the World Bank report regarding the informal sector, saying 90 percent of the population worked in the informal sector.
The report said the informal-sector workers included rock crushers, artisanal miners, agricultural workers, street and market vendors, and domestic workers.
The report added that no official entity provided social protections for informal-sector workers.
Previous governments tried to regulate street sellings and subsequently stopped children from doing so, but that effort has not been sustained.
Teenagers continue to sell between moving vehicles and on street corners.
Recently, a NewDawn report unearthed one of the lead custodians of bread-making in Liberia, the Town’s Bakery, along the ELWA road, which allegedly sends teenagers in the streets to sell bread. But the producer of bake-bread denied the report.
Amid Liberia’s economic hardship, the NewDawn newspaper finds that a lot of young people see selling in the streets and risking their lives between moving vehicles as an alternative means of getting their daily bread.
Many of them sell both imported and locally made items including plantain chips, soft drinks, mineral water, bread, biscuits, and popcorn, among other assorted food and non-food items.
They queue between vehicles for buyers from ELWA Junction, and Boulevard Junction in Paynesville through Congo Town, and Sinkor to central Monrovia.
Others are also selling from central Monrovia through the route to Vai Town on Bushrod Island with high hopes that commuters both in private and commercial cars would buy their goods.
Speaking to some of the street vendors who navigate their way between moving vehicles, James Barry, a 19-year-old high school dropout said selling between cars is his only means of surviving.
“All my people are in the interior (rural area), so no means of survival but to sell in the street to feed and send myself to school,” Barry said.
According to him, he was a 10th-grade student of the Apostolic Foundation High School in Sinkor before he dropped out.
“This year you see, I’m not in school because of tuition. I got [to] sell, save some money, and get back [to] school next year and continue from where I stopped,” he said.
11-year-old Hawa, a 4th-grade student from the Assemblies of God Mission High School (AGM), explained to the NewDawn newspaper that she sells soft drinks daily in the traffic for her mother after school.
She said she sells to support their home and help pay her school fees.
“I can come from school after 4 pm, find something to eat, and go in the traffic to sell soft-drink for my mother. The money I can make she can keep some to pay my fees,” Hawa explained.
She added that her money uses some of the money was for food.
Alexander Kollie, spokesperson of Traffic Sellers from 18th Street, Sinkor to Vamoma, acknowledged the risks involved in street selling but said their survivability solely depends on the street selling.
“We are in the street not because we want to earn high incomes, not because we want to be millionaires, but our lives, survivability [are] at risk because we don’t have anybody to help us,” he said.
“We got to hustle on our own in the streets, in between speeding vehicles in the traffic, despite our lives being at risk,” he continued.
Kollie stated that they need to survive, but they have no other option besides selling in the street and sustaining themselves and their families.
“In Liberia, no job opportunity, no career for the youth, no empowerment. Many of us you see here selling in the street are high school graduates, some of us [are] attending universities and we are selling in the street because we want to survive and don’t want to be criminals like many of our friends,” Kollie explained.
Precious Cooper, a 30-year-old female student of the University of Liberia, who sell ripe plantain chips, said many young people have become disadvantaged youth or Zogoes because of no job opportunities, and they are lazy and don’t want to do anything for themselves.