Things That Matter

Street Vendors Are Struggling So They’re Banding Together To Get The Help They Deserve

Neighborhoods in cities across the United States owe much of their character and energy to street vendors. From LA’s Echo Park to New York’s Queens, these neighborhoods are buzzing with energy thanks to the street life and activity provided by street vendors.

So many of us who are lucky enough to live in areas like this would venture outside for raspados or paletas, mango sprinkled with limón and Tajín, or hot dogs, elotes, and so much more.

Now, the Coronavirus pandemic has put these communities at risk as it’s decimated the livelihoods of street vendors.

Covid-19 has ravaged the world’s street vendor communities and they need help and they need it now.

Lockdowns being enforced across the globe have thrown the world’s two-billion informal workers into turmoil – and street vendors, whose livelihoods rely on being in public spaces – have been particularly hard hit.

Street vendors provide essential services in cities across the globe, particularly in South America and lower income areas of the U.S., where residents rely on them for basic needs. They are part of a vast informal food system that keeps much of the world from going hungry. But the pandemic has devastated the livelihoods of street vendors, disrupting their ability to do their jobs and leaving many in a fight for survival. 

In a report by Latino Rebels, Newarks’ Ferry Street is described as a place buzzing with activity for the pandemic. Now, only one ice cream cart was operating on a corner, owned by an Ecuadorian immigrant, Silvia Samuel.

“It was very hard. I used to sell all of my ice cream in a hot day like this. Now, I am barely finishing a bucket,” said Samuel as she was getting ready to go back home. “Nobody is around as before. I pray to God for this to end so we can go back to normal.”

Their situation is made worse because many are undocumented immigrants – making them ineligible for many state and federal benefits.

Credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Many vendors – much like Samuel – are unable to access state and federal programs due to their legal status. This makes it hard to afford to get by day to day and have made many feel fearful for the future.

In New York City, the Street Vendor Project estimates there are approximately 20,000 vendors in NYC alone, and most of them are migrants, people of color, or veterans – communities already at increased risk for Coronavirus-related issues. And many of them were already struggling before the pandemic hit, so the impact of lockdown orders has only intensified the problem.

“Street vendors are generally not eligible for state-sponsored benefits or support like paid sick leave and unemployment insurance, or even small business relief funds. For workers in informal economies, this is a dire situation, leaving many with fear and confusion as to how they will support themselves and their families in the days, weeks and months to come,” according to the Street Vendor Project.

“90% of our members are low-wage immigrant workers who rely on busy streets in order to survive day to day. Without a safety net to fall back on, they are forced to continue to work, risking their health and well-being in the process,” they added.

However, a coalition of street vendors is working together to demand the protections they deserve.

Credit: omgitsjustintime / Instagram

Despite being ineligible for several aid programs and being fearful for their futures, a group of street vendor organizations is working to demand more protections.

The National Agenda for Street Vendor Justice was created to put together a united Plato from based on the immediate socio-economic needs of the street vendor community. They hope to set the stage for a “foundation for an equitable national economy that values the contributions of street vendor small businesses.”

The coalition is asking local and federal governments to offer incentives to all small businesses – including street vendors. They also are asking that all information be made available in different languages; to forgive all outstanding fines in 2020; to work towards naturalizing immigrants and refugees so they can access healthcare and financial benefits; and full access to emergency testing and healthcare.

The demands are what all other small businesses already have access to, the group is only asking for fair treatment under the law.

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He Gave Away Free Oxygen To Those Who Needed It, Then People Burned Down His Home

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He Gave Away Free Oxygen To Those Who Needed It, Then People Burned Down His Home

CESAR VON BANCELS/AFP via Getty Images

Peru is being ravaged by a deadly second wave of the Coronavirus pandemic. Few parts of the country are as badly affected as the remote Amazonian villages in the northeast of the country and cities like Iquitos.

The country has been one of the worst hit by the pandemic. For several months last year, it topped the per capita death charts. Officially, 1.2 million have been infected here while 43,880 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University.

One man’s effort to help those who have been most impacted, has nearly cost him his life.

As Peru now faces a daily oxygen shortage of 100 tons, Peruvians are becoming desperate for whatever oxygen they can get their hands on. Oxygen mafias are rising up to steal oxygen products and sell them on the black market for obscene prices.

Juan Torres Baldeón is a good samaritan who has, by his own estiamte, donated free oxygen to 8,000 desperate families in the jungle city of Iquitos. With his generosity, he’s likely saved hundreds if not thousands of lives in the process. But his generosity has also come with risks.

It began with crooks infiltrating the long lines outside Baldeón’s warehouse. The problem became so severe that the police and the military had to be called in to maintain order.

“We only give oxygen to those with prescriptions,” Baldeón told VICE News. “Normally, just half a tank, unless the patient is really sick, because we have to ration what we have. But we kept finding people in the queue who didn’t have a prescription, and when you asked them the name of the patient, they didn’t know what to say.”

Then he began receiving threatening phone calls, demanding he surrender his entire lifesaving supply of oxygen or leave his city behind.

That was when the criminals, who Baldeón believes are a local cocaine cartel, made their move.

In late January, Baldeón had left his home to go to the gym but quickly had to return. When he got back home, his office/home and four others alongside it were on fire.

“They probably thought I was inside,” he told VICE. “There’s nothing left now, just ashes. I feel for my neighbors. They didn’t even have anything to do with the oxygen.”

Thanks to Covid-19, oxygen has become a necessity for so many.

From Lima to Mexico City, residents have been forced to stand in line for hours on end and search far-flung neighborhoods to refill their oxygen tanks.

Normally, refilling a 10,000 liter tank of oxygen would cost around 100 Sols ($27). But with Covid-19 forcing so many to seek care at home with supplemental oxygen, some are paying more than $1,000.

Baldeón isn’t the only person to be threatened over oxygen supplies.

In Peru’s capital city of Lima, a district mayor was forced to send his family abroad following death threats that he received after setting up a municipal oxygen plant and distributing the essential gas to needy families, including to those from outside his district.

Yet even outside of Peru, his family remain unsafe, and they have had to change hotels after their whereabouts were discovered by the criminals, who also threw a grenade at his house.

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This Teacher Received A Nissan Pickup Truck Decked Out As A Mobile Classroom

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This Teacher Received A Nissan Pickup Truck Decked Out As A Mobile Classroom

Nissan Mexico

Like students around the world, kids in Mexico have been forced to take school online or tune into programming on public TV in order to learn. But that’s just the kids who are lucky enough to have access to Internet or a TV. Many students live in rural areas and lack the adequate resources to continue their studies amid the global pandemic.

But thankfully, there are many good samaritans out there (aka compassionate teachers) who have invented their own ways to bring the classroom to kids wherever they are.

A Mexican teacher was gifted a decked out pickup truck by Nissan.

Since schools were forced to close last year in April, Aguascalientes special education teacher Nallely Esparza Flores, has been driving four hours a day to educate students one-on-one at their homes from her truck bed, outfitted with a small table and chairs.

News of her project spread across social media, eventually reaching the corporate offices of Nissan México. This week, the company surprised Esparza with the gift of a new pickup truck specially outfitted with a small open-air mobile classroom built into the truck’s bed.

“Today I feel like my labors and the help that we give each day to children and their families is unstoppable,” she said on Twitter Wednesday, sharing photos of her new vehicle. “My students no longer have to take classes in the full heat of the sun,” she said.

Nissan representatives said they decided to give Esparza the adapted NP300 model, 4-cylinder truck after hearing her story because she was “an example of perseverance and empathy.”

“When we learned about the incredible work of this teacher, we got together to discuss in what way we could contribute to this noble work,” said Armando Ávila, a vice president of manufacturing.

The mobile classroom is pretty legit and will allow Esparza to continue her good deed.

Esparza inside her new classroom.

The decked out Nissan pickup truck has three walls (the other is a retractable sheeting) and a ceiling made with translucent panels to protect teacher and student from the elements while letting in natural light.

It also has retractable steps for easy access to the classroom, electrical connections, a whiteboard and an easily disinfected acrylic table and benches that are foldable into the wall to provide space. The table also has a built-in plexiglass barrier to allow social distancing.

Access to education in Mexico is highly inequitable.

Esparza, like many teachers across the country, found that not all distance learning was equal. Many of her students in Cavillo were from poor families without internet access. So she used social media networks to keep in touch with such students via cell phones, but even that was not necessarily an available option for all — and not ideal. Finally, she decided to solve the problem by hitting the road in her pickup truck.

According to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), only 58% of students in Mexico had a home computer – the lowest percentage among all OECD countries. And only about one third (32%) of the school computers in rural schools in Mexico were connected to
the Internet, compared to more than 90% for schools located in urban areas.

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