Surviving against all odds – As told to SONIA OKERE
Life is a constant battle for survival and it is always tougher when you have no one to depend on. Read the inspiring story of an uneducated woman who fought against all odds to establish a liquid soap business.
I was born in Adabi Local Government in Kogi State over forty-five years ago. My parents had three children, and I’m the last. I grew up in a low-income family, and we literally struggled to survive. My father was a farmer, while my mother was a trader. Although they worked very hard, we still lived in poverty. So, because of that, my siblings and I learned to fend for ourselves at a young age.
I attended Adabi Primary School from 1984 to 1989. As a child, my dream was to have a university education and become a successful woman. Sadly, I didn’t attend even a secondary school because I was sent by my poor parents to work as a domestic staff. I served as a house help to four families. It wasn’t a pleasant experience but I survived. I still remember the family that paid me 30 naira monthly, and I was using the money to support my parents. I had a madam who was very ungrateful. I was doing my job very well, but she always found fault in everything I did. She used to insult and punish me for no reason. I endured the maltreatment because there was hunger and starvation in my paternal home. However, after living with them for two years, I left.
When I got back to my village, I registered to learn fashion and designing. However, I couldn’t complete the training because my boss suddenly moved to another city. When I got the news of her departure, it broke my heart. Going further, I started selling moi-moi. The business did not thrive, but I continued until another door of opportunity opened.
While I was struggling to make ends meet, I got information that a leader in my church had opened a hospital, and was hiring workers. I applied to work as a ward attendant, and fortunately, I was selected. That was how I moved from my rural community to Lokoja town, and life became a bit better. I worked in that hospital for many years before I lost my job. Then, I got another job at Coach Nigeria Limited Company, where I worked as a messenger.
While working there, I became the head of a department because I was honest and hardworking. I was receiving a salary of 5,000 naira, and I worked there for almost 10 years. Later on, I got married and gave birth to my first child. I was still enjoying my maternity leave when I heard that the company was retrenching workers, and unfortunately, I was among those that lost their jobs. From maternity leave, I became jobless.
My husband doesn’t have a 9–5 job. He is a mechanic, and he also sells spare parts for vehicles. Unfortunately his customers were very few. Meanwhile, we now had three children, and needed a steady source of income. I tried looking for a new job, but I didn’t find any because most of the positions were for educated people. So, I started selling pap, kunu, and food items. Initially, I was using my profits to cater to the needs of the home, but it was not enough. Gradually, we consumed the edible goods, and that was how that business collapsed.
But by this time, I had developed a tough skin and refused to give up. So I decided to try another line of business. I started travelling from Lokoja to Onitsha to buy clothes and shoes at a cheaper rate and resell them. I made a reasonable profit from my sales, and everything was going well. However, over time, some of my customers who took my goods on credit refused to pay for them. I kept asking for my money until I got tired. I’m a very quiet person, and the last thing I would do is fight over money. Sadly, those bad debts ruined the business.
My husband moved to Port Harcourt in search of greener pastures, and in 2017, the children and I, joined him. I began working as a minder and cleaner in a primary school a few months after my relocation. My job responsibilities were to clean the whole school and also look after the children in kindergarten. It was a very strenuous role, but I had to do it. I used to be the first to arrive at the school premises and the last to leave. During school hours, I ensured that the environment was always tidy.
Unfortunately, some teachers looked down on me and turned me into an errand girl. This added to the stress of the job and the monthly pay was just 8,000 naira. Suddenly, I started experiencing body pains, and when my husband saw my suffering, he told me to quit the job. I accepted because I wanted to stay alive and look for a better opportunity. My employer was unhappy that I was leaving, because I worked very hard.
I had learned how to produce liquid soap before I came to Port Harcourt. So one day, while I was thinking about what next to do, an inner voice said, “Why not start a liquid soap business?” At first, I shoved off the idea because I felt no one would buy from me. However, a time came when my children were starving because there was no money to feed them. I was still looking for another job but when things became so difficult, I decided to start the business.
I started liquid soap production with 6,500 naira. After producing 25 litres of soap, the major challenge was how to sell it. Then, I started moving from house to house to advertise the product. Some people purchased them, but sales was very low. It took me over one month to sell up the first 25 litres! Initially, I used to carry my goods in a bag until one day I started hawking them on the road. The hawking method created more awareness, and in a short while, my customers increased tremendously.
God has been very faithful to me. Nowadays, I sell the same 25 litres in 3 days intervals. The same business I started with just 6500 naira is now worth hundreds of thousands. I have become a major producer and distributor, and retailers buy from me. My business is progressing every day, and my dream is to establish a soap company and become a brand that is recognized globally. It is a very big dream, but I believe God will make it a reality.
Every business needs new innovations to remain relevant. When I started, I only knew how to produce liquid soap. Then, when some of my customers started asking for air fresheners and bleaching agents, I had to learn how to produce them too. After I introduced those new products, my profits increased. So whatever business you are in, always be ready to learn more about it.
If you have read my story to this point, you might assume that the business isn’t challenging. Well, that’s not true. The first challenge I had was the pungent smell of one of the chemicals. I used to cover my nose with a mask, yet the smell was so strong that it was choking me. When I asked for a solution, other producers recommended a different chemical that serves the same function. Thankfully, since I started using the new one, I have experienced no discomfort. During the production process, I mix the ingredients manually, and that consumes a lot of energy. Sometimes, after work, I experience pains all over my body. The solution to this challenge is to buy a mixing machine, and I hope to do that when I have spare money.
Have you ever watched your children cry because of hunger? Have you ever been mocked because you are poor? Do you feel frustrated in life? That was my story until God intervened. I’m not a millionaire, but this business has improved the financial status of my family. Each time I look back at the past, I shed tears of joy because the story is better today.
My children are my biggest motivation. My parents didn’t send me to school because they were poor and ignorant. I believe that if I had gone to school, I would have had better opportunities in life. Therefore, my major goal is to provide for my children and give them the best education. I joined a daily contribution group where I save money for their school fees. They attend private schools, and they are doing very well academically. My second daughter did so well that she won a scholarship at her school. So, I won’t be paying any school fees until she completes her secondary education. There was also a time a stranger paid my son’s school fees for a term. Truly, God has been answering all my prayers whenever I call upon him.
I have done a lot of unpleasant jobs and received insults from my employers. Therefore, I must confess that being self-employed is the best thing that has ever happened to me. Apart from the profits I make, it also enables me to manage my time properly. As a mother, I decided to create a balance between my work and family life by scheduling all my weekly responsibilities. Today, I don’t have to hawk daily because I have built my business to the point where I receive orders, even when I am at home.
I want to advise all idle women to start working. If you want to start a business, then don’t wait until you’ve raised a huge amount of capital. Start with what you have and from where you are. In my case, I don’t have a physical shop but I’m still making money. You can start a small trade at the front of your house. Also, don’t look down on any business as long as those little profits can sustain your family. If you need to learn a skill, do that. Idleness and laziness are deadly diseases you must avoid.
In life, some people work so hard yet can’t afford three square meals for their family. So while you are struggling to make ends meet, remember to pray for God’s grace and favour. You might have done several businesses that failed. However, if you continue to try new options, I believe one day you’ll experience a breakthrough. So keep pushing, because it is not over yet.