Monday, May 28, 2007
PEOPLE living on the streets are a common sight in the capital.
To daily commuters, they are a hassle, worse, an eyesore and easy prey to petty crimes.
But if you stop for a minute for a chat, they are longing for love and a direction in life.
That is what Alifereti and Vasiti Ritova find fulfilling in their work with street kids in the capital.
The couple lead the care ministry of the Assemblies of God church at Calvary Temple in Samabula and have been doing it for the past five years.
The ministry provides breakfast every morning to 30 children and adults living on the streets.
The youngest is four years old and oldest 65.
They have their meal behind the Suva Olympic pool if the weather is fine.
If it rains, they find shelter at provided tables near the seawall.
"The ministry has been going for the past five years. We provide breakfast to all people living in the street," Mr Ritova said.
Finding breakfast is not a hassle because a bakery in Samabula provides a dozen long loaves and butter every day for free.
The couple pays extra for the necessities if there are more mouths to feed.
Alifereti says this happens mostly on Sundays when the church forks out extra to make sure everyone has something to eat.
For Sunday, Vasiti is up very early because there is not only breakfast to think about but lunch as well.
While she is cooking, she makes sure the dish is enough for 60 people.
"Sometimes we see new faces we did not see in the week and they come on Sunday," Vasiti said.
While many anticipate Sunday lunch as the only time for a family get-together after a long and hectic week, Alifereti and Vasiti are surrounded by beaming faces who are fortunate to have something to munch on for the day.
A former street kid, Alifereti indentifies with them and is glad to be helping them.
"I grew up with my family in Toorak but most of the time I was on the streets. My father was working and our house was always full of relatives coming from the village.
"We lived in a small apartment and there was no privacy, so for me, hanging out with children on the streets was the only way I could make a living.
"In the day we would do odd jobs such as shining shoes or selling coconut baskets for money.
"At night we would sleep under a culvert or a house as long as we found somewhere to lie down."
At 17, Alifereti found himself a job in Nadi but the street was still home. "When I found a job I was still a street kid," he said.
"It amazes me sometimes to be working among other people who were also living on the street."
Though living on a meagre income and a limited education, Alifereti dreamt of a decent life.
He finds himself fortunate to have travelled to other countries while working on a container ship for nine years.
At 59, married with a 25-year-old daughter, he finds his calling in the ministry a divine one.
"People living on the streets have so much to tell, if only someone cares to listen.
"The children are mostly from broken families and poor backgrounds.
"Sometimes there are children come from families where they live with their parents but prefer to hang out with their friends on the street."
Alifereti hopes to see the street kids they are providing meals for make a better life for themselves.
In the past five years, he has received positive testimonies.
"Some have returned to their families and some have found work.
"But when we meet in town, we greet each other with tears in our eyes because we share a lot of bad and good memories on the streets," he said.