Relief and resignation dominated vendors’ reaction to Education Minister Santia Bradshaw’s decision to allow only one of four vendors to ply their trade at the Grantley Adams Memorial Secondary School.
An emotional ‘Ms. B’, a vendor at the school for almost 30 years, was on the verge of tears of joy after receiving the news that she would be allowed to continue to sell on the school’s premises.
“I can’t express my feelings. I am so glad that I will be inside again so that I can really supervise these children,” she said, adding that she felt it was her calling to serve the students.
“All the years I’ve been up here, it wasn’t for money, but it’s because I love them and I want to see them go in the right direction.”
The vendor, who earlier this week called for divine intervention as she prayed among fellow vendors said: “No matter what happens, I know God is going to preserve my life longer that I can be there for them and I give God all the thanks and the praise and the honour and the glory. He said he would never leave me nor forsake me, that he will always be with me. And I cannot express my feelings this afternoon.”
But the thanksgiving was not shared by other vendors, who now face an uncertain future.
While many of them expressed happiness that the veteran Ms B’s position inside the school had been restored, at least one, who identified herself as Tamara expressed both skepticism and satisfaction with the “open dialogue” which was not offered a week before.
“I’m a little skeptical. Things are still a bit up in the air. Where will we go? Where are we allowed to go?” she asked.
In light of the education minister’s push for healthier options, the vendor of seven years who currently sells pigtails, hamburgers, cookies and hotdogs said she was also open to offering healthier options to student patrons.
“I can incorporate healthy snacks. I already do have some healthy snacks. But to be completely honest with you, these children would not even take healthy snacks if you offer them for free,” she said laughingly. “But I can work with the healthy snacks.”
Bradshaw acknowledged to reporters at the school that a number of poor decisions were made when vendors were removed from the premises last Friday. But, she said, the rationale was sound.
“This issue is not simply about vending and removing vendors from the school premises. This issue is also now about finding a balance between vendors, canteen operators, making sure that our schools are safe, that our schools are secure, that people who are engaging in entrepreneurial activity also have the opportunity to be embraced by the school.”
While admitting that a factor in the impasse was competition between vendors and the school’s cafeteria, which started operating at the rural school this term, Bradshaw said a larger issue, which the ministry was seeking to remedy, is the kind of food the nations’ children are eating at school.
“I don’t want to preside over a Ministry that records another generation of people who are obese and suffering with non-communicable diseases,” she told reporters.
“So when we attempt to remove vendors, it is against a background where I believe we have to look at what everybody is selling. We have to look at the canteen operators and make sure that what they are offering is nutritious, but we also have to have a conversation with the vendors about whether what they are offering as well is nutritious.”