30 January 2015

"The Big Issue, no matter where you buy it, is a magazine like no other"

To mark international #VendorWeek, Melissa Cranenburgh, Associate Editor of The Big Issue Australia, writes about the importance of the street paper movement, what she learned on a visit to Big Issue offices in Japan and why we celebrate our vendors.

As our new edition of The Big Issue Australia is distributed, we begin a global event dedicated to the person who sold it to you – and many others in similar circumstances around the world.
The Big Issue in Australia's latest cover.

From 2-6 February, the INSP #VendorWeek  acknowledges the approximately 14,000 vendors who sell street magazines in 600-odd cities around the world. A reminder that whether you’re in Brisbane or Belgrade, Oslo or Osaka, you can find something really worth reading – a far-from cheesy souvenir – that directly contributes to those who need it most.

About a year after I started working at The Big Issue  in Australia, I went on a trip to Japan. It was a strange time to travel as an Australian – to be suddenly flush with a newly generous exchange rate, after the global financial crisis had pushed most other places into recession. As a Japanophile, it was far from my first trip to the land of pachinko machines and superlatively good manners; but on this visit there were cracks starting to show on the well-tended surface, large enough for even a foreigner to see.

There was a growing air of (very) polite rebelliousness creeping into even casual conversations. Many in their prime working years had been suddenly turfed out of what they had assumed would be lifetime careers. Those who’d had a good education, family support and the means, had tried to turn this into a small boon. International travel beckoned; creative pursuits filled the void left by more challenging work. But for those who had been barely clinging to the slipperiest part of the slope, the sudden tip in finances were enough to land them, rather brutally, onto the streets.

Pic: The Big Issue Japan.
Nowhere was this more apparent than at the local Big Issue offices, which I was lucky enough to visit. Our benevolent franchise had landed in Japan and taken root in 2003, quickly becoming something unique to that place.

It had quirkily Japanese content – the most widely sold edition at that time was one where a food writer had based recipes on the ‘ask a vendor’ agony aunt column – and the local vendor support workers increasingly acted as a valuable basic service to those suddenly locked out in the cold. Helping some to know their rights to unemployment benefits, to fill in forms, to find some kind of accommodation.

Many of those who sold The Big Issue in Japan slept rough on the streets and it was common to see vendors, neatly dressed, wheeling compact suitcases into the vendor offices – each bag containing all their worldly belongings. As it had in other parts of the world, Japan’s Big Issue had adapted to suit the political climate and needs of the vendors, as much as the taste of its readers. Filling in the gaps left where the government had failed.

While it should always be part of any national agenda to build a society that doesn’t leave anyone behind, increasingly – all over the world – it’s fallen to those outside of government to find solutions to the people left on the margins. The international street paper movement fits into that category. Some would call it a Social Enterprise; others…well, they might quibble semantics.

One thing’s for sure: there’s a growing mood of dissatisfaction with the state of inequity growing around the world, and a need to do something sustainable to bridge the growing divide.

Just remember as you thank your vendor, and flick through the pages: The Big Issue [and other street papers like it], no matter where you buy it, is a magazine like no other.

This #VendorWeek, The Big Issue Australia will once again run their CEO Selling fundraising campaign, in which 100 business leaders and politicians will don a fluorescent bib and try their hand at selling the street paper.

29 January 2015

Get your #VendorWeek Playlist here!

Fancy some tunes to get you in the mood for next week's #VendorWeek Big Sell?

All these great acts will be out during #VendorWeek selling copies of The Big Issue. Check out the full list to sponsor your favourite and help INSP to continue supporting 114 street papers worldwide.

24 January 2015

Cape Town athlete runs 400km for The Big Issue South Africa

By Laura Smith

During Brandon Finn’s punishing 400km run from Johannesburg to Hattingspruit in the South African province of Kwazulu-Natal, the first hour on day eight was the toughest.

His lungs burned with each breath, his legs felt like lead and a dull pain throbbed through his knees, quads and calves. But he kept going, spurred on by his desire to retrace the 10-day march home that 7,000 mineworkers and their families undertook during the Anglo-Boer War in 1899.

Knowing his committed father was several metres behind him, driving in first gear as he had done for the last 280 miles, also helped motivate the urban geographer/long-distance runner.

But what really helped him push through the pain barrier was knowing that, with every step, he was raising more and more money for The Big Issue South Africa.

As his route took him through the beautiful Laing's Neck pass, on a welcome downhill 5km stretch, the 24-year-old found the going a little easier. By day 10, he was flying towards the finish line at the old mining town of Hattingspruit. 

When his epic run finally came to an end on 10 January, Brandon had raised over R15,500 (£900/ $1,300 / €1,200)  for The Big Issue South Africa. After he enjoyed a wave of publicity in the South African press, that total has now risen to well over R19,000. 

“It’s a little known incident in South African history, so I thought running the same route was a good way to commemorate it,” says Brandon.

In 1899, 7,000 Zulu mineworkers and their families wanted to escape Boer War hostilities in Johanneburg to return to their homes in Hattingspruit, Kwazulu-Natal.

The trains had been commandeered, and so their only way to reach their homes, 400km away, was by foot.

They covered the distance over the course of 10 days and all survived to reach home.

“In South Africa today, 115 years on since the march and 21 years since the end of apartheid, many social and economic disparities and inequalities that existed in 1899 still exist,” adds Brandon.

“I think it’s really important to recognise that aspect of history has prominent effects on the way in which our contemporary South Africa is taking shape years after apartheid.”

The money Brandon has raised will be funnelled into The Big Issue South Africa’s job-creation and social-development programme, which helps its vendors obtain new skills, connections and the confidence to secure full-time employment.

“I love the work that The Big Issue does and its vendors are very prominent around Cape Town,” says Brandon, who has bought his copy of the street paper from the same vendor, a man called Goodman, ever since he moved to Cape Town from Pretoria six years ago.

“The Big Issue is such an innovative organisation, especially in South Africa where homelessness and unemployment are so prevalent and there’s a vast mismatch of inequality that is so deeply entrenched," he adds.

“Any initiative that is tackling these issues is definitely worth running 400km for.”

Janna Joseph, editor of The Big Issue South Africa, added: "We were thrilled when Brandon pitched his idea to us, and we are even more thrilled now that he’s pulled the whole thing off, raising about R19,000 for The Big Issue in the process.

"It’s amazing how much one person can accomplish with determination and the right attitude – just like our vendors, who work so hard to support themselves and their families each month. These are people who will benefit from Brandon’s efforts, through our skills-development workshops and job-creation programme."

Donations are still open and can be made at www.expedition-imashi.com.

23 January 2015

Boston student crowdfunds to secure Homes for the Homeless

A Harvard University student believes crowdfunding could be an answer to helping homeless people in Boston find housing and employment.

Inspired by his year volunteering at the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter, pre-med student Showly Nicholson created his innovative program Homes for the Homeless on the crowdfunding website Gofundme.com in May 2013.

Homes for the Homeless founder Showly Nicholson. Zengzheng Wang
Homes for the Homeless supports homeless individuals by raising $2,000 per person to cover three months’ shelter, transportation and food, giving them the time and space to save money, focus on maintaining a steady income and apply for work.

"I saw that it takes, minimum, about a year of being on a waiting list to get out of homelessness through government aid," explained Showly.

"You don't have a home address, and if you're lucky enough to stay in a shelter the night before, you might not be well rested or have reliable transportation…all things that often contribute to preventing one from getting a job, or even losing a job."

Showly set out to help one man in particular who frequented the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter and has been homeless for after losing his job as an accountant.

While searching for a room to rent through sites such as Craigslist and Padmapper, and working in conjunction with the Home Start organization, Nicholson encountered an upsetting truth.

"As soon as we mention that he is homeless, there is no response," he said.

"We have tried being transparent, but it is almost impossible [to find housing] that way… the only difference between him and others finding housing is his current homelessness."

Homes for the Homeless on crowd funding site Gofundme.com
The pair have experienced successes and failure so far, but the generosity expressed by the public through online donations - which now totals nearly $2,500 - have humbled them both.

"I could tell he was sceptical at first, but at this point…we just have to get the timing right, and hope he gets the job when we get the housing," said Showly, who frequently tells his client, "Just don't lose hope."
To follow the progress of Homes for the Homeless or make a donation, visit gofundme.com/homes4thehomeless.

This is a summary of an original article written by Mia Germain for Spare Change News. INSP members who would like to republish this article can download it here.

Philadelphia pizzeria feeds homeless one slice at a time

By Laura Smith

A dollar-a-slice pizza shop in Philadelphia has encouraged its customers to give over 9,000 free slices of pizza to the homeless.

Rosa’s Fresh Pizza owner, Mason Wartman, started up a Pay It Forward scheme in March 2013 after a customer asked if they could buy an extra slice for someone in need. 

Since then, Rosa's has let customers pre-pay for a slice of pizza, which a homeless person can then order to take away or eat in store.

Mason says Rosa's now serves around 40 homeless people every day, and that his customers have generously bought close to 9,500 pizza slices in the past 10 months.

"My customers love the opportunity to help out," the 27-year-old told INSP. 

"The homeless people really use the program as a flexible way to get access to food. One Monday, a homeless customer said that because we were closed on a Sunday, they hadn’t ate anything since Saturday. That blew my mind."

After his first customer asked to have an extra slice of pizza given to the hungry, Mason says he wrote a smiley face on a Post-It note and stuck it up on one of the walls of his shop.

Today, a sea of neon Post-Its bearing messages from people who have done the same are plastered all over Rosa's.

Among them are heartfelt messages from those who have come in for a free slice of pizza.

A message written on a paper plate by Rob H, a homeless veteran who often visits Rosa's, reads: "God bless you, because of you I ate off this plate. It's the only thing I ate all day. I am a homeless veteran and get treated rudely when I ask for help. Rosa's treats me with respect."

Another homeless customer writes: "I've been homeless in Philly for six years and I'm so happy to see people coming together and really making a difference in the community. Rosa's is a great start to changing the way homeless people are treated. God bless you all."

While Mason didn't necessarily set out to feed roughly 1% of Philadelphia's homeless every day, the business owner is thrilled at what Rosa's Pay It Forward pizza scheme has achieved.
Glen models his new Rosa's sweatshirt.

"Homelessness is a visible pervasive problem in Philadelphia," adds Mason. "It’s important for Rosa’s to be extremely good at something and use this to improve the community. Feeding the homeless like we do is the best way we can use our talents as a company."

As well as providing homeless people with some comfort food, Rosa's is now clothing them too and pointing them in the direction of homeless services.

Mason has started selling t-shirts with the help of clothing company, Rush Order Tees, and donates 50% - the equivalent of seven slices of pizza - for every sale.

Also on offer are sweatshirts. For every one purchased, another sweatshirt is donated to the homeless and has a large tag sewn on the inside that details homeless resources in the city.

Mason explains: "On the inside of the sweatshirt there is a tag of information the homeless person can use: phone numbers and locations for shelters, meals and computer classes. Hopefully this will encourage the homeless person to structure their day productively, acquire durable skills and improve their lives.

"It’s one of the most exciting things I’ve worked on."

You can find out more by visiting the Rosa's Fresh Pizza Facebook page

21 January 2015

Top names join INSP #VendorWeek Big Sell

The #VendorWeek Big Sell is gaining momentum as big names sign up for the fundraising event at the heart of INSP’s #VendorWeek celebrations.

From 2-8 February, street papers in the UK, Australia, America, Denmark, Switzerland and Greece will hold guest vendor events as part of the #VendorWeek Big Sell.

In the UK, guest vendors will sell The Big Issue and The Big Issue in the North for an hour in a sponsored challenge to raise money for INSP’s work.

Below is a full list of the 72 guest vendors who have signed up for the UK so far. We'll be adding sponsorship pages as they are available.

To sponsor your favourite guest vendor follow the links below. 

Don't know who to sponsor? Support the full team here.

Monday 2 February

Fraser Nelson, Editor, The Spectator
Colin Murray, BBC sports and music presenter
Paul McNamee, Editor, The Big Issue
Dominic Laurie, BBC Business presenter
Julian Lloyd-Evans, MD Advertising, Dennis Publishing
Brendan O'Neill, Editor, Spiked
David Wilding, Director of Planning, Twitter UK

Ian McMillan, poet
Tony Stacey, CEO of social landlord Syorksha

Kate Green MP (Labour)

Tuesday 3 February

Ian Munro, chief executive at New Charter Housing in Tameside
Bishop David Walker, Bishop of Manchester

Wednesday 4 February


Richard Walker, Editor, The Sunday Herald & The National
Tony Carlin, Editor, The Evening Times
Marie Macklin, CEO, The Klin Group

Twin Atlantic (whole band)
Garry Sweeney, Gabriel Brodie in River City
Adam Robertson, Dr Dan Hunter, River City

Lauren Mayberry, Chvrches singer
Moray McDonald, MD, Weber Shandwick
Andrew Bartlett CEO; & Ruth Kelso Head of Learning & Development, Social Enterprise Direct
Colin Stone, reporter STV
Ruth Kelso, Head of Learning and Development at Social Enterprise Direct

Stuart Braithwaite, Mogwai
Janey Godley, comedian
James Graham, Twilight Sad singer

Robert Florence and Iain Connell, comedians and Burnistoun stars
Robin McAlpine, Common Weal 
Fiona Godsman, ‎CEO, Scottish Institute for Enterprise
Ross McCulloch, Director, Third Sector Lab

Nikki Simpson, PPA Scotland
Alison Johnstone MSP (Green)

Allan Beswick, BBC Radio Manchester
Mike Burrows, Managing Director of Greater Manchester Academic Health Science Network
Dave Power, Chief Executive of City South Manchester Housing Trust
David Herne, Acting Director of Public Health, NHS Salford

Mark Burns-Williams, West Yorkshire Police & Crime Commissioner

Keith Mullin, The Farm
Ann O'Byrne, Labour Councillor
Dan Haggis, The Wombats

Thursday 5 February

Kay Burley, Presenter, Sky News


Ewan Stark, Managing Director of S1

The View, band
Rt Rev John Chalmers, Moderator, Church of Scotland
Robert Carroll, Managing Director of MOV8 Real Estate
Niall Patterson, Chief Executive Abbeyfield Scotland
Lloyd Anderson Director, British Council Scotland

Edinburgh (near Scottish Parliament): 1pm-2pm:
Jackie Baillie MSP (Scottish Labour)
Margaret Burgess MSP (SNP) - Minister for Housing & Welfare
Christina McKelvie MSP (SNP)

Sarah Boyack MSP (Scottish Labour)
Josh Littlejohn, Director Social Bite
Mike MacKenzie MSP (SNP)

Johann Lamont MSP (Scottish Labour)
Angus MacDonald MSP (SNP)

Matthew Gardiner, CEO of THT

Friday 6 February

David Blunkett MP (Labour)
Paul Blomfield MP (Labour)

Harry Leslie Smith, survivor of the Great Depression, RAF veteran & activist

Stuart Andrew MP (Conservative)

Alan Billings, PCC   

Stuart Andrew MP (Conservative)
Hilary Benn MP (Labour)

Maria Eagle MP (Labour)

Saturday 7 February

George Galloway MP

For more information about the #VendorWeek Big Sell, please contact Laura Dunlop: l.dunlop@street-papers.org / 0141 302 6554

Our vendors: Bertl Weißengruber - Kupfermuckn, Linz, Austria

Bertl, 63, is one of the original vendors of Austrian street paper Kupfermuckn. He started selling the street paper in Linz right after it was founded in 1996.

Born in Vienna, Bertl grew up living in a shanty town, like so many other bombed out families after the war, and went on to move around Austria as a vagabond.

“Vagrancy was still illegal in Austria until 1972 so I was sent to prison a few times,” he says.

“Finally I went to Hamburg and became a sailor for five years. I was in Leningrad, at the North Cape in Norway, in Shanghai and then in Caribbean until the shipping company went bust and I ended up in Linz, where I started a family.

"I have four children with my former wife, with all of whom I am still in good contact.”

Then one day he collapsed with a stroke. It was downhill from that moment on. His wife finally threw Bertl out and he was back living on the streets.

“I went to Arge, a non-profit association for the homeless. There I could move into a halfway house,” Bertl recalls.

“At the same time the street paper Kupfermuckn was founded, and because I only had a small limited income delivering a daily paper, so I started selling Kupfermuckn as well.

“It was tough at the beginning and the first day I only sold one copy. Slowly but surely, though, more people got to know me and since then it got better and better."

Eventually, Bertl found a regular spot in Ottensheim at a local farmers' market.

“I am even friends with many stall owners and customers, often exchanging the paper for food, but I also receive invitations to eat as well,” he says.

“The Ottensheim actor Ferry Öllinger already knows me as well. He stars in the TV Show 'Soko Kitzbühel'".

Now, Bertl is working hard to get his life back on track. He lives in a flat share for homeless people and is taking part in all events organised by the street paper. He is acting in a drama group and is a DJ at Radio Kupfermuckn.

Did you know INSP works with over 114 street papers around the world? You can help celebrate thousands of vendors, like Bertl, by joining our Thunderclap social media campaign during #VendorWeek 2015. Sign up here.

19 January 2015

Our vendors: Paul Ortiz - Street Roots, Portland, USA

On a cold, spitting December afternoon Paul Ortiz walks from the food carts at Southwest Third Avenue and Stark Street back to the Street Roots office to check his mail and pick up more papers.

Paul began selling the Portland street paper in August 2014 and has become a familiar face on his regular pitch. He uses the money he earns to buy basic necessities and help his girlfriend pay her bills.

His style of selling is understated but visible - he holds the paper out to the side and says “Best paper in town, one dollar” as people walk past. The key, he says, is to be there day after day, so that people know he’s serious about the work.

He says the people who pass by his turf are all kinds, ranging from openly cold or snobbish to remarkably kind.

The vendor has an accepting attitude toward people in general, having experienced both the charitable and cruel sides of humanity from living on the streets.

When a potential customer gives him the cold shoulder or says something nasty, he just shrugs it off and gets back to work. There’s always the next person.

With a past blighted by drugs and crime in California, Paul started a new life when he found a steady job riding with a travelling carnival, setting up the booths and stages and rides in towns across California and southern Oregon.

The job took him to Salem, where he quit and settled for a few years. He got married, got divorced, and decided to head for Portland, where he got clean for good. Eventually, Paul began selling Street Roots which became his main source of income and also an opportunity to network and build friendships.

He attends writing workshops at the street paper’s offices and takes the time to meet vendors new and old, because he knows and cares about the people he shares the streets with.

“I give what I got,” he says. “If I have more than I need, there’s plenty of people out here who can use that.”

Did you know INSP works with over 114 street papers around the world? You can help celebrate thousands of vendors, like Paul, by joining our Thunderclap social media campaign during #VendorWeek 2015. Sign up here.

16 January 2015

Check out The Contributor vendors on canvas

A painter in Nashville has raised money and awareness for his local street paper, INSP member The Contributor, by painting portraits of its vendors for a charity exhibition.

When Ryan Wagner moved to Nashville two years ago, he was surprised to see people on the city's street corners selling newspapers. 

'The Lovely Denise" by Ryan Wagner.
"We were out house-hunting and I saw this guy - I didn't even know what The Contributor was," said Ryan.

"I didn't know people still sold newspapers. I was immediately fascinated and I wanted to find out more so I bought a paper one day."

Ryan was so taken by the street paper vendors he met that he decided to paint their portraits to help spread the word about the street paper and its mission to support those who sell it.

The next time he bought a copy of The Contributor, he found himself a subject. After that, his project quickly snowballed.

"Denise was the third vendor I painted," Ryan said. "I had a long conversation with her and that really inspired me. It was about that time that I decided this was going to be something bigger. I decided to do this whole series of 10 portraits and now here we are."

“Stop and Pose” by Ryan Wagner.
In "The Lovely Denise" Ryan also incorporates pages from the street paper he bought from Denise, pasted into the background of the portrait.

In December, Ryan debuted his series of vendor portraits in a local gallery as a unique fundraising event for The Contributor Inc., the non-profit organization that publishes the street paper.

"Fifty percent of the proceeds from the paintings will go to the newspaper,” he said. 

“I have also made a limited-edition print that includes all 10 of the images. Hopefully I can use this as a launching pad for doing even more cool stuff like this. I'd like to do a project like this every year."

This is a summary of an original article written by Joe Nolan for The Contributor. INSP members who would like to republish this article can download it here.

15 January 2015

Our vendors: Horacio - Hecho En Buenos Aires, Argentina

Argentinian street paper Hecho En Buenos Aires (HBA) provided a lifeline to Horacio.

Horacio has been selling HBA for more than three years, ever since he was encouraged to find out more about the street paper by a friend "who was having some problems and who had been encouraged to take part in HBA’s art workshops". 

Hecho En Buenos Aires (HBA) vednor Horacio.
He says: "I didn’t know about the magazine but they asked if I wanted to sign up, and I had been out of work with health problems for such a long time.”

Prior to selling HBA, Horacio worked in a factory job in Buenos Aires, sitting all day at a sewing machine, which proved to be back-breaking work. Now, he says, he feels brilliant: “I like it because the street has its charms, people always come up and chat to me at my pitch. I don’t make readers feel obliged to buy the magazine – I like to show them that I work with dignity.”

Some people, he explains, complain about the 15-peso price, despite this only giving him enough for two bottles of milk, but Horacio has regular customers who buy from him as soon as the magazine comes out.

“And then there’s the guy that passes by for the first time and you win him over because he likes you,” he adds.

“I think there are some people who buy it simply because you are homeless, but there are lots of people who are really interested in whatever the subject matter of the magazine is – the content is good quality.”

Horacio says his life has changed since selling HBA. He now manages his own money and is enjoying the freedom and possibilities that offers.

“I would like to have my own place, a place where I can relax, rest my head at the end of the day,” he says.

“I would like to have a family eventually but everything will happen in time. With faith, I will be able to do this. To my readers – I need them so much, just as they need me. Let’s keep the machine going.”

Did you know INSP works with over 114 street papers around the world? You can help celebrate thousands of vendors, like Horacio, by joining our Thunderclap social media campaign during #VendorWeek 2015. Sign up here.

14 January 2015

How street papers are celebrating #VendorWeek2015

In the first week in February, street papers around the world will take part in #VendorWeek, a huge celebration of street paper vendors that also challenges perceptions of poverty and homelessness.

#VendorWeek 2015 takes place 2-8 February with an international programme of events, activities and social media action planned by street papers in the UK, America, Canada, Europe and Australia.

Guest vendor events

The #VendorWeek Big Sell is INSP's flagship fundraising event during February. It sees
high profile people take on the challenge of selling a street paper, mentored by one of the paper's hardworking regular vendors.

In partnership with INSP, The Big Issue UK and The Big Issue in the North will hold #VendorWeek Big Sell fundraising events in London, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Manchester.

The Big Issue Australia will once again run their CEO Selling campaign, in which 100 business leaders and politicians take up the street paper selling challenge.

Similar #VendorWeek Big Sell events are also being planned by Greece's first street paper Shedia in Athens, Hus Forbi in Denmark, Washington DC's Street Sense, One step Away in Philadelphia and Swiss publication Surprise in Basel, Bern and Zurich.

One Warm Winter

German street paper Strassenfeger will once again run their 'One Warm Winter' campaign to coincide with #VendorWeek. The fundraising drive asks the public to donate money to supply warm winter clothes for the Berlin's street paper vendors and culminates in a party for vendors.

Vendor events

Many vendor-focused events are also being organised to mark #VendorWeek. Austrian street paper Kupfermuckn will hold a portrait painting workshop exclusively for vendors to help them unleash their creativity. Afterwards, they will be treated to a party with music, food and drink.

To reward their vendors for all their hard work, American paper Homeward Street Journal are giving each of their vendors a free bundle of papers, which they would usually pay for at a discounted rate, to sell during #VendorWeek so they can earn more money.

A special Skype call to connect vendors in America and Canada is also being planned by Street Roots in Portland, Oregon and Vancouver street paper Megaphone.

Vendors and staff of Quebec street paper L’Itinéraire are planning a special promotional event during which they will read the magazine out loud in Montreal's subway cars. Vendors will also denounce austerity measures taken by the Quebec government with silent protests in different subway stations.

Social Media

INSP is leading the way to promote the event on Twitter and Facebook using #VendorWeek. This includes a mass tweet to celebrate street paper vendors around the world on 2 February, using crowdspeaking network Thunderclap. Everyone can join in here.
Many of our member street papers also plan to harness the power of social media during #VendorWeek. Street Roots will tell the story of the street paper movement through Twitter, Instagram and Facebook by sharing images and quotes from street paper vendors worldwide.

Macedonian street paper Lice v lice will share stories about their most successful vendors on their website and via social media.

Zeitschrift der Straße, a street paper based in the German city of Bremen, will use its blog and Facebook to share daily posts about international street paper magazines throughout #VendorWeek 2015.

#VendorWeek 2015 takes place takes place 2-8 February. Keep up to date by following @_INSP on Twitter and #VendorWeek.

7 January 2015

Our Vendors: Pilar Ferreir - Ocas, São Paulo, Brazil

Since Pilar Ferreir started selling Brazilian street paper Ocas in São Paulo, she has gone from cleaning mansions to writing novels and performing poetry and can now provide for her family.

"I was eight years old when I started to get into writing,” recalls Pilar, who grew up working alongside her mother, cleaning properties in some of Brazil's wealthiest neighbourhoods.

“I read Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves and decided to write a story. My mother's boss came into my room, saw my papers on the floor and said that I was writing too much. 

"She tore everything up, said 'get to work, blackie, you're aiming too high'. This phrase has haunted me all my life. Today, every time I take part in a literary project, a recital, I remember this.  It was complete nonsense."

As Pilar landed her first paid cleaning job at 14, education was never an option for her. It wasn't until she enrolled in a basic education course for deprived adults that she got some college experience, but finding secure employment remained a battle. Money was always running out and she was eventually evicted from her home.

One day, after leaving yet another unsuccessful job interview, Pilar broke down in the doorway of the Museum of Art of São Paulo and cried. Suddenly, she spotted a man with a bundle of magazines under his arm.

"I saw him selling magazines so I went over and asked him how I could get a job like that," recalls the 44-year-old. "He told me about the street paper and I said to him, 'but I don't live on the streets'. He replied: 'But soon you will'. And he was right. I no longer had any money in my purse and I hadn't even realised it."
Together they went to the Ocas office, where Pilar received her orange vest and a pack of ten magazines. It was a Monday morning. On Wednesday she went back for more.

"There were periods where I didn't stop working until one in the morning,” says Pilar

“I had to make the most of the people coming out of the cinema and theatre. Selling the magazine, I meet artists, actors, singers and lots of very nice people. I show them my poems. They often give me free tickets for shows, invitations to plays. All of this keeps me going."

Writing has remained her greatest passion. Following the publication of her poems in Ocas, she published a book, Unacademic Words. "I didn't go to university, but living on the streets inspired me to write it," she says.

After eight years of selling Ocas, Pilar managed to rent the house that she lives in today, with her children. "Ocas has turned my life around," she says. "We have money to eat and pay the bills, which is the most important thing. I hope that one day I can buy my own place."

Did you know INSP works with over 120 street papers around the world? You can help celebrate thousands of vendors, like Pilar, by signing up to our Thunderclap social media campaign during #VendorWeek 2015.