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Selling pens to eke out a living

October 6, 2016 By Joseph S. Margai

The aim of every businessman is to maximise profit, but profit-making in Sierra Leone may be a tall order for small businesses.

Thus, doing petty trading can only enhance the acquisition of one’s daily bread in Sierra Leone. Yet, there are some people who still feed the home, pay school fees for their kids, pay rent, among other domestic obligations, from proceeds of their petty trading.

Throughout the four years I have spent pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree (Hons) in Mass Communication at Fourah Bay College (FBC), I bought pens from one Sahr Sandi-Gaun, whose petty trading has earned him much respect among students on FBC campus.

Neatly dressed, smart and good looking, always bespectacled with white lens, pen seller Sahr Sandi-Gaun moves from one strategic position to another to attend to his teeming student customers.

Most petty traders in Sierra Leone are illiterate, but Sandi-Gaun’s case is different. He holds a Diploma in Creative Practical Arts from the Milton Margai College of Education and Technology. He is happily married with two children, both of whom are in secondary school.

“I sell pens, mechanical pencils, books, correction pens. I’ve taken over 10 years selling these stationeries. I started at the Milton Margai College of Education and Technology and now I’m on FBC campus,” he happily told Concord Times.

Sahr Sandi-Gaun is not only a pen seller; he is also a teacher in one of the schools in Freetown. He says proceeds from selling pens helped him educated. Thus, he has never relented doing his chosen business.

“I still sell pens because I don’t want to forget where I generated money to go through my Diploma certificate. Also, if I continue to sell pens, I would never forget education which is the light to my future,” he said.

Despite his desire to continue his trade, Sandi-Gaun, like many other traders, has been seriously hit by the current economic downturn in the country.

“At first the business was nice and really profit-making, but now the increase in exchange of the dollar to the Leones has affected me a lot. Thus, the prices of purchasing the pens in large quantity have increased and when you tell the customers that the price for a pen is Le1,000 they will say it’s expensive,” he explained. He noted that if he is lucky for a day, he could sell Le80,000 worth of pens, which increases to Le120,000 during examinations.

When quizzed why he still thinks selling pens will boost his economic status despite the challenges he has highlighted, Sandi-Gaun said he derives pleasure from selling pens and interacting with educated people at the same time.

“This business has expanded my contacts, and I’m now popular. I don’t know if I could get rich if I continue to sell pens but at the moment I fund my domestic obligations through this business,” he said matter-of-factly.

Determination to pursue further education remains his utmost desire and he is ready to continue selling pens until he gets what he wants. Already, he has bought an admission form to study for a Bachelor’s Degree in Education (BED) at the Milton Margai College of Education and Technology despite paying school fees for one of his children who will re-sit the private WASSCE [West Africa Senior Secondary Schools Certificate Examinations] next year.

“I have all my requirements to further my education, and I have already bought an admission form to do that. I love teaching, but selling pens will always be part of my history because we are living in a country where nobody cares about the problems of others. This is what I do to fund every project I’ve embarked on in recent years and will continue to do it,” he said.

Many students of Fourah Bay College, including myself, are fond of him. In fact, no student will buy a pen elsewhere even if he is not around. No matter what it takes, students will have to wait for him to buy pens.

Hawanatu Bangura is one such student who has decided not to buy pens from other traders. She said Sandi-Gaun knows how to encourage his customers as well as selling quality pens to them.

“My first encounter with him was not friendly because I was about to go to the exams hall when he wasted my time because he was looking for change. Even though I was annoyed, his wonderful smile to me sank my emotions. Since then, I’ve always been buying pens from him,” she said.

He is different from many other petty traders because of his decent behaviour and appearance. Thus Hawanatu and her colleagues on campus always like to transact with him.

Alhassan Thoronka, another student, said Sandi-Gaun is doing his trade at the right environment. He added that pens are sold in large quantity in an academic community like Fourah Bay College.

“Another important thing about him is that he is always very close to us. I personally have decided to always buy pens from him,” he said.

Meanwhile, there are many lessons to learn from this petty trader who is not shy to ply his trade on the first institution of higher learning in sub-Sahara Africa. Among which are courage, honesty, perseverance, determination, humble beginning and love for humanity.

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