FEATURE: From tissue seller to graduate: exploring the journey of Abdulai Thaimu Bundu

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By Alfred Koroma & Yusufu S. Bangura

I’m grateful, and I know this is just the beginning, the last words of Abdulai Thaimu Bundu, concluding  27 minutes interview with Concord Times.

The  eldest of eight children born to a farmer in Munumasungbala in Kambia District, Bundu’s academic journey represents a true meaning of struggle and perseverance.

His recent graduation from Fourah Bay College, rocked social media  with wonders and admiration.

Determined to be educated, Bundu sold almost every commodity he could to support his stay in school as his parents’ poor financial status could not let them pay for him.

During the Ebola epidemic in 2014, a close  friend lured him to abandon other businesses and start selling tissue.

 Convinced that selling tissue was a better option to raise enough tuition fees, Bundu grabbed the business, selling along major streets and most times  at the front of the All People’s Congress (APC) party headquarters in Freetown.

Tissue is a soft and absorbent product, commonly used for wiping surfaces, hands, or faces. It’s made of thin, pliable material that  offers gentle cleaning without leaving residue.

 The product is one of the common businesses among street sellers in Freetown, often found on the side of major streets across the city, coaxing buyers in passing vehicles.

But profit in the  business appears inconsistent. It depends on the traffic and how lucky a trader is in a day.

“ I have encountered days where I stayed in the streets for a whole day and couldn’t  sell a single box of tissues. Sometimes I sell one or two boxes and still continue  the next day,” Bundu told Concord Times.

Sometimes he makes  le50 profit on a normal day. And on a lucky day, especially during December holidays, Bundu said he could make up to Le200 in a day.

The business would later bring salvation for the young man and boost his academic journey with support and gratitude.

“One fortunate encounter changed my life,” he said.

When coaxing people driving along the Old Railway line one day, he met Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, who by then wasn’t yet a Mayor.

 “She didn’t buy any, but instead, with a smile, asked about my schooling. At the time, I was 15, and I was in high school (SSS1, third term),” he explained. “She gave me Nle250 to buy textbooks.’

On another lucky day, as Bundu continued his hustle, he had to bracket  Aki-Sawyerr again at the Cotton Tree. Recalling he was the boy she gave money to buy learning materials, she stopped to know why Bundu wasn’t in school that day.

“I explained to her that I was struggling to pay school fees. Then she gave me her contact information to reach her for further assistance,” Bundu narrated. “True to her word, she supported me throughout my academic journey culminating in achieving a BSC Division one in Social Work.”

Despite Aki-Sawyerrs’ support, Bundu continued his tissue business until his second year in university. He stopped selling when time for his internship drew closer and informed her about his decision.

At the time, Aki-Sawyerr was now Mayor of Freetown City Council.

The Mayor agreed and asked him to do his internship at the Council by giving support to her communication team at the Council.

Career plan                                                                     

 Bundu is one of  1, 800 students who graduated from Fourah Bay College last month, according to data from the Ministry of Technical and Higher Education.

 He graduated with BSC Division One in Social Work, a course he said he deliberately chose to give social support to society by helping others who are struggling.

After his internship, Bundu continued working at Freetown City Council as a volunteer in the  Mayor’s Delivery Unit.

But he’s more passionate about a career that enhances environmental safety and climate change.

“I have a passion for pursuing a Master’s degree in Environment,” he said, “I want to help the environment and endeavour to curtail climate change in Sierra Leone.”

As he intends to pursue further studies, Bundu is grateful about how dedication, passion, honesty, perseverance and his relationship with Mayor Aki-Sawyerr have aided his journey so far.

I thank everyone for the support, he said:”I’m grateful, and I know this is just the beginning.”

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