The subject of this story makes her money from selling soap and kerosene. She talks about how losing her job 18 years ago changed everything and how a social enterprise she belongs to made all the difference for her in 2020. 

Do you remember when you started your business?

18 years ago. I used to be a secretary at an insurance company before I lost my job. My husband also lost his job at the same time. Banks and insurance companies were merging at the time, and we were among those who were affected.

That must have been tough. 

It was. We didn’t have any money. My company gave me about ₦120k, and most of it went into finding a new house. We were in a 3-bedroom flat and had to come down to a room and parlour. 

Do you want to know the toughest part of this? Changing my children’s school from a private school to a public school. I cried when I realised that we had no choice but to change their schools. 

I’m sorry. 

I got a shop, but I didn’t know the kind of business I wanted to do or have money to stock up the place. My friend introduced me to a lady who had just started a social enterprise — Mamamoni — and was training people on how to make soap. I think I was one of the first people she trained. I opened my shop and started making and selling soap and toilet wash. 

How did you raise money to start this?

One of my sisters gave me ₦100k, and that was it. I also started selling kerosene and using what I made to take care of my family. 

Have you had to raise more capital since you started?

Yes. A lot of times. Mamamoni has been helping a lot with that. I collect loans from her when I need them and pay her back. I think the first loan I collected was ₦10k, but I’ve collected up to ₦150k loan at a time. Also, I’m a leader in the community. So when people collect a loan from the organisation, they give me the money, and I pay it into the bank account. 

How has your business evolved since you started?

The soap business hasn’t changed a lot. I used to buy kerosene and store it in a tank. But one time, I bought it in large quantities at ₦150 per litre. A week later, the price came down to ₦50. It was a great loss for me. When I managed to sell everything, I found out that I couldn’t afford selling from a tank anymore. So I started storing the market inside gallons. That’s what I’m still managing till now.

How much does this typically bring in profit?

Sometimes, ₦10k. At other times, ₦7k. When the market moves very well, I can make ₦15k. But if the market comes down, I have to bear the loss. 

How have you been taking care of your family from this?

I manage oh. I don’t depend on anybody. And things are working out. My daughter will soon graduate from university. If not for Covid, she would have left. One of my boys has just finished secondary school and my last boy is about to write WAEC. When it’s time to pay my house rent, I use my savings. If it’s not enough, I take a small loan to complete the rest.

Do you pay interest on the loans you get?

There is a small interest. People don’t give women loans with no collateral, so Mamamoni stands in for us. 

Interesting. How do you manage to save after taking care of your basic expenses?

I work with Mamamoni and help her train women on how to start businesses, and I get ₦20k at the end of the month. I save that in my account. I’m also in a daily contribution program and put ₦500 in it every day. I don’t touch the money unless a need arises — usually rent and other family needs.

That’s great. How was 2020 for you?

I don’t think I would have survived it if I had faced it alone. I had access to palliatives because of the organisation I belong to, so food wasn’t a problem. But some people around me had it worse. I saw how the pandemic affected people in the compound where I live. Since I had some food, I always gave them part of what I had. One cup of rice here, two cups of beans there. Everyone had to come together to help one another. 

That’s sweet. Did your business take a hit?

People still needed kerosene, so I was still selling. But my profit dropped to ₦2k – ₦4k every month. I was lucky if I made ₦5k. Thankfully, things are getting better now. I want to start selling engine oil now because they sell very fast. But I’d need about ₦100k for that. 

How do you plan on raising the capital?

I don’t know yet. But I don’t want to take another loan. With loans, you have to buckle up so you can sell your market and return the money you owe. I’ll just manage what I have until I find the money. 

A lot of people would say that 2021 is looking better than 2020; how do you think the rest of the year will look like?

If God keeps us alive, everything will be better. I know the people around me will put a smile on my face. My two sons are my concern right now — I’m hoping the first one will get into a school this year. The second boy is about to write WAEC. When that’s done, I’ll ask him if he wants to go to school or learn a trade. Then I can relax small and concentrate on other things. 

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