#VendorWeek: vendors share what makes their part of the world unique

From Melbourne to Denver, Taipei to Athens, vendors  across the globe have been sharing what makes their part of the world unique… and so much more. These interviews were conducted in honour of this year’s #VendorWeek (6-12 February 2017) – INSP’s annual, global celebration of the 10,000 men and women who sell street papers in 35 countries around the world. Everyone can join in by using the #VendorWeek hashtag online.

Rachel Dave and Fay from Sydney. Photo by Peter Holcroft.

Rachel T, 44, from Sydney sells Big Issue Australia

What has been your biggest achievement?

There are three, I can’t narrow it down to one. The first is getting the guts up and being a Big Issue vendor because words cannot explain how it has changed my life and I believe it’s a major achievement that I get out every day and try to be happy.

The second one would be undertaking university and doing well in the first two semesters. The third is being ok with me. I’ve had so many mental health issues as an adult but I can finally say that I’m happy 80 per cent of the time, which is pretty cool. That’s an achievement

What has been your biggest challenge?

There are two major challenges I’ve face; one was trying to bring children up without all the nasty judgements. Trying to raise them without the world on their shoulders and give them a fresh start.

The second I suppose is my biggest challenge is when I was in hospital and I was told that my body is dying and I couldn’t walk or talk. To naturally get the strength up to overcome that and go to university and do what I do.

But most of all the biggest challenge has been living, because it’s so easy to die.

What are your hopes for the future?

That the world never gives up on hope and that one day we will understand the power that empathy has and that it is worth a lot more than money. If people are more understanding that we have bad days but we don’t have to be grumpy with each other. It might suck but you’ve got a job, you’re lucky.

What is special about your country?

For me personally, growing up in a country town, it’s the understanding that we all come from a different place and we can do a little bit better that makes Australia special. It’s also the humor, Australian’s have a really good sense of humour I think, and I love that. You can have a bad day and go to bed all sad and depressed or you could have a little bit of a bad day, put a little spin on it and carry on.

If you were boss of the world for one day, what would you do?

There are three things that I would do. One, get rid of credit and I would make it illegal for anyone to sell houses for profit because I think that everyone deserves a good foundation to grow on. Without that foundation you are pretty much stuffed. Two, I’d make it illegal to go to war.  Wars never solve the problems, it just makes more. Three; before learning Maths, English or Sciences we need to go back to the very roots of human beings in general and learn empathy in a course somehow.

How has selling the Big Issue Australia changed your life?

Before I started selling The Big Issue I was very different. I was very closed in, frightened and scared. I didn’t think I was a very good person and people really scared me because people can be really nasty with each other and their words because they don’t understand what their words can do to others. I just locked myself away.

The Big Issue, the staff, and the lovely customers down at Pyrmont have shown me that there is unity in community; and that gives me strength to carry on. So I can’t put it in words because The Big Issue is life to me.

Interview by Sam Clark

Hus Forbi vendor Wesley pictured at the Little Mermaid statue in the city Credit: Mette Kramer Kristensen

Wesley, 31, from Copenhagen in Denmark sells Hus Forbi

What has been your biggest achievement?

I have saved two people’s lives. An old man stepped out of a taxi right in front of me. He fell to the ground and injured the back of his head. I called an ambulance. A friend of mine wanted to drown himself in the winter. He walked over the ice and went into the water. I went out there an carried him back in. It was freezing cold and he was a heavy guy.

What has been your biggest challenge?

Fighting the system. The social system seems like one big obstacle to me. It works against me although it is supposed to help – we are so privileged  that we have a welfare system in Denmark.

What are you hopes for the future?

I want to get a job or establish some kind of business that I can afford an apartment – and I want to re-establish contact with my two children.

What is special about your country?

We have a welfare system – and the country is so small that you can drive from head to toe in less than six hours. There is no excuse for not visiting you grandma.

If you were boss of the world for one day, what would you do?

Get heads of states and religious leader to sign a contract that nobody should get to sleep hungry. And written in small print on the bottom of the contract: I would like a few more days to take care of the rest!

How has selling Hus Forbi changed your life?

It has provided me with a source of income and when has been nothing else to do to get food and things. And it has given me a lot of fun experiences and good friendships.

Interview by Poul Struve Nielsen

Michalis Samolis, 59, from Athens in Greece sells Shedia

What has been your biggest achievement?

The birth of my children

What has been your biggest challenge?

Managing to move out of the (homeless shelter) and into my own home

What are you hopes for the future?

No hope for the future. I simply live and enjoy each day as if it is my last.

What is special about your country?

It is the cradle of democracy. Teaching history and spreading Democracy to the whole world, thousands of years ago

If you were boss of the world for one day, what would you do?

I would feed all the hungry people in the world and give shelter, a home, to all homeless people in the world.

How has selling Shedia your life?

It saved my life. I stopped thinking about committing suicide. Apart from the money that saved me, the greatest achievement is that I was saved psychologically. Because of the magazine, I met amazing people -publishers and vendors- from other street papers from around the world. When I sell the paper, people stop and say “kalimera” (good morning) to me. I feel truly proud.

Interview by vendor Aspasia

Luo Chin Bian, 65, from Taipei in Taiwan sells The Big Issue Taiwan

What has been your biggest achievement?

Actually I haven’t feel a sense of achievement. I just discovered there are many people looking at me while playing their phones. There are many situations too.  For example, police will come for me, and some troubles happen because of them.

What has been your biggest challenge?

There are no challenges. I always find a solution to overcome it. There are many people come for me, but some will report my selling to the police as an illegal behavior. But most of all, people interacting with me are kind.

Will you worry about the sales of The Big Issue?

No, I just start to do on it recently. I think it won’t be bad.

What are your hopes for the future?

My hopes… Everything’s gonna be okay. I will try my best.

Have you ever thought about doing another job?

Yes, I thought about selling fruits or other kind of stuff before.

What’s special about your country?

Although Taiwanese is known for people’s friendliness and kindness, I still can feel some people are quite hard to interact.

If you were the boss of the world for one day, what would you do?

(Laughs) There’s not possible. But I just want back to Kinmen Island, going back to do some farm works.

How has selling Big Issue Taiwan changed your life?

My salary has become better. Since I have a job, my temper also becomes calm. Back in the day, I was very irritable.

Interview by Wee Yun Jin

Steve Taylor, 44, from London, UK sells The Big Issue

What has been your biggest achievement?

Becoming a dad. I’ve got four kids – two sons and two daughters – and two step-kids. They’re my world. I’d do anything for them. I also became a granddad for the first time three months back, and again six weeks ago. What a joy.

What has been your biggest challenge?

I’ve had my tough times, but sleeping rough for six months at Euston Station after my relationship broke down was horrible. Just me, my dog and a sleeping bag out in the cold. I never want to do that again.

What are your hopes for the future?

All I want is to see my kids grow up happy and do well for themselves. I’ve got my own little mini-business with The Big Issue and that keeps me going for now. If I can work, run my own micro-business and see my kids happy, I’m delighted.

What is special about your country?

First of all, London is the greatest city in the world. I’ve lived all over the country – a year in Liverpool, a year in Wales – and I always pined for London. I mean, I love being British, they were great places and filled with lovely people, but there is this draw to London. I’m proud to be London born and bred, proud to be British.

If you were boss of the world for one day, what would you do?

The first thing I’d do is take money we waste elsewhere and do everything I could to end child poverty. The kids shouldn’t have to suffer. That’s not right.

How has selling the Big Issue UK changed your life?

The Big Issue keeps the lights on in more ways than one. I’m a builder and engineer by trade but suffer from crippling arthritis and I’ve struggled to get work because of that. The Big Issue has been there for me when I need it, always, and I’ll always be grateful for that. It gives me structure. I started selling the magazine again in October after a tough time and it’s got me back on my feet again.

Interview by Andrew Burns

Russell Adams, 57, from Chicago in the USA sells StreetWise

What has been your biggest achievement?

That’s a good one. I learned to save money, stay organised, and take care of my bills. Back in the day I didn’t do that, I would just spend, spend, spend… week to week, cheque to cheque. Now I put money away every day to save for a rainy day.

What has been your biggest challenge?

This cold weather! It gives you nightmares! Once you get yourself situated, it’s not too bad.

What are your hopes for the future?

I want to find a full-time job. I don’t think I will be able to sell StreetWise too much longer because I am getting up there in age. Maybe security or maintenance, or something like that. As long as it doesn’t kill me! I also worry that at my age there isn’t too many jobs to find!

What is special about the US?

It’s the land of the free! Some other countries have no freedom. Like Russia, the president controls everything. But here it is a free country and you can do anything, relax. I also feel safe and secure, with our military taking care of business. I have no problems right now.

Even the president, it’s okay, I’ll give him a chance. Everybody deserves a chance, right? I don’t get into politics, but they put him in there, and we will find out. He is a businessman, not a Democrat or Republican.

If you were boss of the world for one day, what would you do?

I would get all of the homeless people together, buy vacant lots and build shelters, so none would be homeless anymore. I would donate my own money, and make homelessness over with! I have a dream I will do that one day. We could have computers, healthcare, entertainment all right there to keep people off the street. I hate seeing people on the street. It’s sad.

How has selling StreetWise changed your life?

It changed a lot! I can pay my bills and budget money like I said before. I get to do more. I don’t have time to be out on the street messing around. I get up in the morning at 5 am, and I am at my location at 6:30. It made me more responsible and my life has more structure. When I was younger, I got out of the Marine Corps. And I had all of this money. I had no idea how to save money, and I just went right through it. I feel a lot better now.

Interview by Dave Hamilton