Straw vendors don’t how they’ll make it another month without work

After a nearly six-month closure of the tourism industry due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some straw market vendors are unsure how they will survive another month without work.

Minister of Tourism Dionisio D’Aguilar said on Monday that full beach access on all islands, the reopening of major hotels and access to all amenities and water taxis is slated for October 15. 

On November 1, it is expected that attractions, tours and excursions will resume. 

However, it remains unclear when straw vendors will be allowed to resume operations.

“I am behind with everything,” said Stephanie Sands, a straw vendor who is a mother of four.

“I am hanging on by a thread.”

Sands said she understands the crisis the country is in, but said that government assistance only goes so far.

“It’s a real hard pill to swallow,” she said.

“My two older children work in the market with me. It’s eight of us in this house and nobody has anything to look at for no one. God still makes sure we get through. But in terms of surviving, it’s really rough.”

Matthew Gordon, who also works in the straw market said, like many other people, the pandemic has forced him to live differently.

“You fight the battle as long as you can,” Gordon said.

“I had to cut back on everything. Can’t do this and can’t do that. The bills are there, but you have to wait for assistance.”

With so many bills, the straw vendor said the government’s assistance can barely take care of them.

“Unless they increase the assistance, I can’t take another month of this,” he said.

“I’ll be under the ground by then. Another few months from now my family won’t be able to help, because they won’t be able to help themselves. I can only hope that the government extends the stimulus check for the tourism-affected areas.”

Tedistine Rolle said although she has been able to pay some bills, there has been a daily struggle with finances.

“It’s been rough,” Rolle said.

“The money we get from national insurance helps, but there are still other expenses. If we could get back to work that would be good, but we know the situation so I guess safety first. Surviving another month with no income is a problem. To go another month without the government assistance will be another issue.”

In June, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced the government has allocated $40 million to extend its unemployment assistance program with the National Insurance Board (NIB) and an additional 13 weeks to assist thousands of Bahamians who lost their jobs.

With the straw market dependent on tourists coming into the country, there is still no set date of when the market will open.

D’Aguilar noted that the cruise industry is unlikely to begin sailing into The Bahamas until later in the year.

An even then, cruise companies would likely start with travel to their private islands before coming to Nassau.

President of The Straw Market Association Esther Thompson said although many vendors are ready to resume their work, she is concerned about additional assistance for people working in the tourism sector.

“We know we didn’t cause COVID-19,” Thompson said.

“We know we have to get it under control and make sense of the situation. We get that. What about the welfare of the vendors? I’m concerned about welfare.”

Thompson said more is needed from the government.

“We need a real plan,” she said.

“We need the government to put forth a real plan for straw vendors and the others who are not working. We need a national and financial plan with how the government is going to address the situation for the Bahamian people.”

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Italia Clarke

Italia Clarke joined the Nassau Guardian in August 2020. Clarke covers national, human interest and social issues. Education: University of The Bahamas, BA in Media Journalism

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