Hear Me

I was a child soldier but I turned my life around

Brima*, on life after the Civil War
By Sulaiman Stom Koroma
23 August 2021
Brima, Freetown

I am 33 years old and I run my clothing business in Freetown. I trade in both men’s and women’s wear. Every day, I welcome my customers with a smile, hoping that I have a huge day of sales. But life wasn’t always like this for me.

When I was 11, I was living with my uncle in Makeni, in the north. My parents had sent me there from our village so I could learn shoe-making. My uncle was a popular cobbler, famous for his hand-made leather sandals. Every day after school I would learn the trade from him and soon became quite knowledgeable.

When my uncle established a branch of his business in Kono, he took me with him. Unfortunately, soon after this Kono was attacked by rebels. I remember they wielded guns, machetes, and sticks. They abducted me from our house.

I will not go into details about my time with the rebels. All I will say is that I was with them for some time. We were trained as soldiers. We executed the instructions they gave us; there was no alternative.

When the war got over, I was reunited with my family in Makeni. It was hard to start life all over again. People had relocated, businesses were starting up but at a slow pace. Many people I once knew were no more. My uncle informed me that he would be closing the business and returning to our family’s village, where he hoped to start farming.

I was devastated to hear that. Going back to the village was like taking 10 steps backwards. So, I decided to travel to Freetown, and start a new life. I came to Freetown with a determination. I wanted a better life, a life that could give me my daily bread and support my family.

At first, I started working for people, helping them with domestic work. I saved most of what I earned. After almost two years of this work, I was able to start my own business.

At first, I started selling items door-to-door. Later, I rented a store on the second floor of a building in the central business district. Here, I started selling second-hand clothing, footwear, cosmetics, and other such items.

The business began to grow. Today, I am partnered with another businessman, and we trade in both wholesale and retail. Unlike other businessmen who do multiple jobs, I focus only on this business.

I came here with absolutely nothing, but now I can take care of myself and my family. I hope to expand my business and eventually relocate to a bigger shop, after which I will start travelling to Guinea, Banjul, or even China.

*Brima is a pseudonym.

Photograph: Sulaiman Stom Koroma