THE BEAUTIFUL STORY OF FOUR FREETOWN-BASED GRADUATES

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Author: Alhassan Fouard Kanu

(FRSPH,MPH,MSc,MBA & DrPH Candidate).

Dear friends

Congratulations on finishing your degree/diploma/certificate. It is huge achievement. Every year, an estimated 2000 young people complete an institution of higher learning, including vocational training institutions. Again, my estimation is around 250 formal jobs available for each cohort of 2000 graduates every year. This is what the market is able to avail. I know you have not understood this. Let me explain.

If there are 2000 graduates (including degrees, diplomas and certificates) every year, and only 250 are getting formal employment, it means only 12.5% of graduates are being taken up. This means that if this figure remains constant, it takes a considerable number of years for just one cohort of graduates to all find employment. Remember fresh graduates come out sharper and more tech savvy. As technology increases and disrupts labour dynamics, the jobs are going to continue to shrink and it is going to become even harder to find a job. So my friend, we are in for a long ride.

But why is this so? I want to believe it is because we have been lied to. Society has put a ladder for you to climb up and told you as a graduate, you are supposed to work up there (…in an office). Now, you have climbed the ladder and left so many jobs and opportunities because you were looking for a degree job. While society pushes you and elevates you, other people, who have no inflated sense of self are busy minting money and accumulating assets.

You have climbed the ladder…you are up there… “am a graduate” but you know for sure, that you can’t even ‘see your degree’. It’s some knowledge you have in your head and in pictures (of you in your graduation gown). You have waited and waited for a job in vain. Or if you are working, the conditions are worse than the jobs you despise.

Because we are a society that loves pretence, glamour and class, you have continued to live a sham, called the life of a graduate. Every day you remind yourself, I am a graduate. The further you tell yourself so, the more it hurts that you have your ‘papers’ but can’t find something meaningful to do. Oh I know…yes the government is to blame! Yes it is to blame,…but so what? What will you do about it? What will happen if the government remains like this for another 10 years?

If you are unemployed, you need to get tired of it. If you are still unemployed, it is because you are still comfortable. I am telling you, the day you will get tired, you will be amazed how many things there are, that a human being can do to earn a living. If you are to make progress, you will need to reach that moment in your life when you decide, enough is enough, I don’t care what people will say, I don’t care how many degrees/diplomas/certificates I have…I don’t care how my friends will perceive me…I don’t care how many will like what am doing… but I am going to take a faith, move out of my house and accept to venture out into the ordinary jobs or businesses we always despise. The day you get tired of thinking am a graduate and I can’t bend this low, is the day you will find your freedom.

Following a post on my Facebook wall 2 weeks ago on taking up taxi-driving to eke out a living following a loss of job, many of my followers sympathized with me but majority ridiculed the idea of becoming a taxi-driver. “With all the qualifications you have, you don’t need to”, they advised. As I ponder over the idea for days, I took up to the street of Freetown to conduct a qualitative engagement with people doing jobs order than office employment. It was amazing that I met few graduates engaged in jobs that many perceived as meant for the “uneducated”. Report of my findings from these engagements focuses purposefully on the graduates I met in order to succinctly and convincingly convey the focus of this article.

Here are four graduates who shared with what they are doing and how they earn:

EDWARD’S STORY

Edward, graduated from MMCE with a social sciences degree. He looked for jobs and could not find any. He decided to start a bread business. I asked him how much money he makes. He explained to me the cost of inputs, including wages for the boys that help him. In simple terms, Edward earns a minimum of Le6, 000,000 every month. He pays school fees for his siblings including one who is due to take the upcoming WASSCE. He has secured a small plot of land and has started depositing some money at a building material shop for construction materials. That is Edward for you. He got tired of waiting for jobs, he used Le 500,000 to start a business that now earns Le 6 millions every month as a minimum.

 

FODAY’S STORY.
He graduated with a degree in Business Administration from IPAM. He walked from one office to another looking for jobs in vain. He says one day, while coming from job hunting, he sat on an okada but did not have money. To build a good relationship with the okada guy, he started a conversation with the okadaman. The okada man told him that okada business makes a lot of money especially if the motorbike is yours. When he arrived at his apartment, he told the okada man that he did not have money.

He explained to him his situation and miraculously the okada man forgave him and even gave him Le 10,000 for dinner. Foday told his mother that night that he wanted her help. He explained to her that having failed to find an office job, he wanted to start an okada business. His mother broke down and cried. However, after a day she called back. She told him that she feels broken that his son, a graduate was going to become an okada man. Foday says he cried too but told his mum that he was tired and was ready to do anything to make his life and that he didn’t care.

His mother went to LAPO microfinance office and got a loan of Le 2,000,000. He sent it to him. Foday bought an old bike at Le 1.3 million in 2013. He bought a new shirt, new trouser, boot and helmet and started the job. On his first day, he made Le100, 000. He decided that he was going to save as much as possible to pay back the mother’s loan. By the third month, he had cleared the loan and sent her mum Le 1,000,000 as appreciation.

On average, he was earning about Le 2,000,000 every month. Over a period of 6 months, he had saved enough and bought two new bikes. Over the period, his income increased, he made anywhere between Le200,000 -300,000 per day from the 3 motorbikes.

Foday says he never used to consume any luxuries. He kept a simple life. He had a plan and he knew what he wanted. By 2016, he had 3 bikes and last year, he bought 1 kekeh. Foday told me he has saved enough; as makes over Le6,000,000 monthly savings. He looks forwards to buying a mini-bus by December this year. Foday says the day each graduate gets tired of their condition, no job will be hard enough to do.

LOVETTA’S STORY
Lovetta completed her degree in Procurement. Like any other fresh graduate, she hit the road to look for jobs. She shuffled between offices without success. She sat at her parents home for over a year. One day, she heard her mother crying. She went to find out what the problem was. Her mother kept quiet, looked in her eyes and said “I am crying because of you. It hurts me that you have a degree but you are seated here. Everyone in the neighbourhood talks about us.”

Lovetta said she felt speechless and in the days that followed, she lost appetite, felt useless and just hated herself. So one Saturday evening, she decided to walk to one of the restaurants in town. She sat had a drink and remained there for some time. When the time for closing the restaurant came, the manager came to inform her that they were closing in shortly.

She says, she doesn’t know where she got the courage, but she looked the manager in the face and said I want a job here. The manager looked at her and went speechless. He told her there were no jobs. Lovetta insisted she is willing to come and serve and when they have money they can pay her. Even if she gives her transport, it was okay since she wasn’t paying rent. The manager agreed.

The following day, she came and started working. On her first day, she was paid Le10,000 as transport. She says she went back home happy, because for the first time, she felt useful. The years of seating at home had made her feel useless. She felt alive again. Soon, they started giving her Le20,000 on top of the Le10, 000 as transport. Since the restaurant was good and targeting high customers, she often got tips and started making anywhere between Le50, 000-100,000 per day.

She started saving that money. At first, her mother was reserved about it but she later supported her. Because Lovetta was a graduate with knowledge on procurement, she helped the restaurant to set up a system that reduced costs and helped them get supplies on credit. Soon, the management picked interest in her and elevated her.

In no time, she was promoted to an assistant manager. Her pay went up. She started earning Le 1,500,000 per month on top of other allowances. The long and short of her story is that today, Lovetta worked and rose in ranks very fast because of her attitude and work ethic and she reached the peak. She told me she intends to resign and start her own business mid next year.

ISHMAIL’S STORY
Ishmail’s story demonstrates what can happen when you decide enough is enough, to hell with the degree!! Ishmail was a very proud man. He says he used to be a very proud man, who had a very big graduation party. After the party, it dawned on him that he had to demonstrate what the degree meant. He left home to ‘start life’. He searched for jobs, sent application after application, but not a single employer ever called or wrote back. He says ‘I am very aggressive, I went back, followed up each one of them and did everything I could but nothing worked. So I accepted my fate.’

He says one day, he found his friend they had been with at high school. That friend had not gone to university. Somehow he had failed to get the required grades so he didn’t join. Ishmail was however to find the guy doing well, yet he had no degree. “He was doing very well. He had a shop, had bought land and some good number of assets. I was surprised. I asked him what he was doing. He said he is involved in petty trade.”

He gave me some ideas and also lent me Le 500,000. Ishmail says he went to his village in Songo, bought 20 chicken between Le10,000-15,000, and sold each of them at guard street market for Le20,000-Le30,000. He made a profit of Le250,000. The following week, he called one of the boys in the village to look for chicken, he sent him some money via airtel mobile money and the boy bought for him 35 chicken. He put them on a morning taxi heading to Freetown, where Ishmail waited and picked them.

The money he made from this chicken was enough to convince him that chicken was the business to do. He started doing this on a weekly basis and by the end of the year 2014, he had made Le 4 million in savings. He sat down a couple of friends whom he convinced to invest in the business and the rest is history. Today, Ishmail has a poultry farm and employ men and women to manage the farm whilst others engage in selling the eggs and the fowls, including supplying hotels in town. He says the market for local chicken is hard to satisfy. It grows by the day. Ishmail currently owns a building, 2 plots of land, a business car and is helping his siblings and taking care of his parents.

I don’t know what each of these stories teaches you about what you need to do to change your life, but one thing is clear, nobody gives a damn how qualified you are. No matter what degree/diploma/certificate you hold, you have to get tired of your situation and dare to venture out. Yes…people are going to talk…of course they have to…but don’t mind…as time goes on…they are slowly going to shut their mouth as you advance.

Many times the opportunities are there…but they usually don’t come easy. If you plan and start mapping your life in years…you will realise that it is possible to do make small steps and make it big. Don’t despise any job. Even if you are employed in an office but need an extra income, don’t be afraid to ‘go low’. Sometimes, you are going to have to accept the degree is a balloon. It takes nothing away from you to do an ordinary job. Sometimes, it’s along that path that you will meet people and ideas that actually get you to where you want to be. If you get tired of your situation, you will start seeing opportunities. Remember, your degree is yours. You have it and no one can take it away. The best degree is knowing that you can use your head, scan your environment, profile your assets and utilise them.

You have a lot of assets. You have friends, time, ideas, good health, degree, good name, good parents, life, and so many assets that you don’t know about. Wake up and make something of your life…nobody cares how many degrees you have… these people we despise are making a lot of money…lets go out and join them. In case you are feeling useless and feel stranded, don’t give up. Just change perspective.

Assume you have no degree. Assume no one is watching what you do. Assume no one cares what you do. Just imagine how many things you can do. I am challenged by these stories and I am going to continue to challenge myself and try out new things. What if you decided enough is enough and chose to do something daring? Who knows what you can achieve. Anything is possible.

The stories of these guys may be exactly what our degrees are not telling us.

God bless you as you dare out. As I thank you all for reading, please look out for me on the road, my taxi is air-conditioned and Free Wifi for passengers.

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Abu Bakarr Tarawally is a Journalist based in Freetown. He works for the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation as a radio producer. He has once served as Editor for a few newspapers in Freetown, including Sierra Express Media, The Exclusive Newspaper and his own newspaper, the Daily Express Publications. He is a teacher trainer, and loves writing and reading a lot. Email: abstarawally@gmail.com. Call +232 88601277 or +2327661303.

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