Future & Startups

Meet Thelma, the sales girl turn successful entrepreneur

Life is indeed full of challenges and obstacles but depending on how one views these challenges and obstacles, one can either be broken or blessed by them.

One of my greatest strengths was strong human relation skills.

Being raised by a single mother with five daughters, challenges were just necessary part of our daily life.

In a typical poverty-stricken refugee home like ours, challenges such as hunger, malnutrition, no school fees, etc. were almost like additional members of my family.

As a child, it was not too difficult for me to see those challenges as stepping stones to the next level of survival and someday to prosperity.

In everything I did, I never forgot that one of those challenging days would put smile on my face. As real mothers would do, my mother was always there for her girls. She buckled up hard work with prayer so as to get her little girls moving on from that limited condition to unlimited choices in the future.

As young as I was, one of my greatest strengths was strong human relation skills. Even on empty stomach I could easily get along with people irrespective of their age or status. And that alone placed me in a unique position to sell anything to anybody.

In our refugee life in Buduburam, at age nine, I decided to pay the price of sacrifice with my mom to keep our all-female family together economically. My mom being a professional caterer started making pastries to sustain the family. She solicited our support in the new venture, but my sisters felt shy to sell on the street.

I couldn’t see where poverty and shyness could work together, so I offered to do the selling. It was exciting to go out every morning with a basket full of cornbread and shortbread and then get back home after some hours with an empty basket plus lots of money. Business was stressful but it was the only dignified way to make ends meet in our refugee condition. As normal in business, some days sales was poor but I still never allowed it to ruin my joy of doing business with my mom.

Hawking under the sizzling sun day in day out sometimes before and after school was really a big challenge for a primary school girl like me. The smile on my mom’s face every time I came home with the empty bread basket was the greatest source of motivation for me.

Every morning I was full of hope and excitement to hit the streets and make some money for my mom. I like to always see my mom smile especially when I am the reason behind her smile.

In the face of the storm of our struggle for survival in Buduburam, I was resilient and determined to see a better side of life. I wanted my life to be important to my generation. How could my life really count?

“You can be somebody tomorrow by studying books and not only by selling bread. Just sell more and study hard, ok?” My mom encouraged me.  Sometimes if it meant for me to sell early in the morning before going to school, I would do it. My teachers were amazed by my brilliance in class but most often I went to school late because I had to sell in the morning before going to school. I was always punished for my lateness. One day I went late as usual and one of the teachers called me and said, “You’re brilliant but you always come to school late, why?”

I told him my situation. He was touched by my story and I was never punished for lateness again. I knew I had to sell bread to survive, but to really live and impact my generation I had to study hard.  While others saw me as just an ordinary kid who hawks the streets with pastries, I always knew that those days were just stepping stones to the brighter days ahead. I never saw those challenges as hindrances or anything negative but saw them as training materials that was preparing me for bigger opportunities ahead. I always had one thing in mind and that was “I never have control over the things that life has to offer me but I have absolute control over the things I’d have to give life in returns.”

The more I became future-conscious, the more I shifted my attention from the bread to my books. I also realized later that hawking the streets was not just putting food on our table and paying my tuition but it was also giving me a good experience as a business woman. As one of my favorite lines says “When preparation meets opportunity success is inevitable.”

I couldn’t have agreed more, I am a woven fabric of testimony that watched hardship with eyes of faith instead of concluding it as my fate.Meet Thelma, the sales girl turns successful entrepreneurToday, I am a proud beneficy of the DAFI Ghana scholarship- an Albert Einstein initiative. Fast forward, I am a graduate with B.A in Marketing and successfully manage my business (ModestAfrik-Seth’s Stitches; a brand that is gradually becoming a household name: As a business we are focused on meeting satisfactorily the needs of the niche we serve and we do so by offering wardrobe consultation for weddings, corporate, casual and traditional occasions) in my country; Liberia. Coupled with business, I work simultaneously as an Intervention Assistant with GROW Liberia (Adam Smith International Program) – a market system development that focuses on agriculture.

As an assistant in the agro-processing sector of the firm, I bring to the table my marketing techniques coupled with my experience as a sales girl and event organizer (gained through volunteering with local NGOs to impact young people) to bring value to my team in reaching our targets.

This job has brought me so much fulfillment professionally and personally due to the fact that it makes me contribute to the betterment of my nation which was why I returned home after more than a decade of being in exile.

Food security is a very vital issue to a nation’s stability and my service to humanity through my job has unraveled to me the quality of food we have to feed ourselves and the world at large and not just so but what amazes me more are the untapped opportunities that exist in the sector for not just agro-business owners but as packaging companies, IT professionals, logistic firms, and many others that when we shift our attention to the sector can bring us more returns both financially and materially.

By Mrs. Thelma Teetee Ahamba [B.A Marketing, Wisconsin International University College]

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