Facing salary delays, civil servant found refuge in fruits business

Facing salary delays, civil servant found refuge in fruits business

At the ever busy University of Juba junction, businesses thrive. But along the road to Al Giada Military Hospital you will find 39 year old Alek Aguer’s grocery stall with neatly arranged rows fruits.

A bunch of other women in the same trade have also lined up. Each has put their best foot forward in ensuring they get maximum number of customers.

While every other woman has their story, Alek’s story is way different from theirs. On this day when we catch up with her for this interview, he would be in a newsroom as a reporter or editror, or in some communication department in government ministry or NGO.

But the fine-looking journalist-turned-fruit-seller stands out with her compelling smile and relatively long – natural hair.

Her table displays variety of juicy fruits such as mangoes, bananas, oranges, apples among others.

“I lost my husband years back during the war and have no one to ask for help,” she tells me when we get time to have this interview.

The civil war left death and suffering in its wake, coupled with limited opportunities for survival for many South Sudan nationals. But for Alek and scores other women whose husbands in the military paid the ultimate price, this was a whole different story.

Left with nothing but to contend with raising the kids singlehandedly through the biting economic crisis, she had to think fast about to do next as the government job she was doing could no longer support her family as the salary delayed for months.

Alek, a seasoned journalist, was an employee of the University of Juba’s communication department where she edited the varsity’s monthly ‘Jarvarsity’ newsletter.

But for months the salaries were not forthcoming and she had to make a bold step, immediately.

It has become a new normal for most civil servants to go for as many as six months without pay as a result of a combination of factors attributed to the civil war, including the decline in oil revenues, a major revenue for government.

But her children were not about to hear the challenges the country was facing. She was a mother and she had to provide.

 “One time during the Christmas holidays, I spent the whole salary that I receive from University on my kids and myself and I was actually bankrupt to the extent of spending three days without food. That was the turning point,” she says.

That is when she abandoned her job in the Communications Department at the Juba University to venture into the murky waters of groceries business.

With a capital of only 20,000 SSP, an equivalent of 50 United States Dollars or less, the determined mother of three decided to venture into hawking fruits along roadsides in January this year.

But this was not going to be a walk in the park as she would soon discover. Selling perishable goods like fruits was not an easy job. It was worse for beginners like her who had not made regular customers yet.

“I found myself struggling to find customers to buy my goods before they go bad in one or two days,” she says.

Already a social media creative, Alek decided to start advertising on Facebook.

“I can still remember what I wrote. The post read: Hi guys! Come and buy my fruits. I am selling fruits at the roadside near the University of Juba along Giada road,” she says with a smile, no doubt reminiscing the struggles she has endured to be where she is right now.

She had the maximum number of Facebook friends –  5000 – and  to some of them, they thought she was joking.

After a series of posts, the results started showing.

“When they realized that indeed I was serious, they started coming to my stall to buy. I appreciate everyone who has been part of this journey with me,” says an emotional Alek.

More than five months after enduring dust, smoke and deafening noise fruit moving cars, Alek is literally reaping fruits of fruits vending.

She recalls a near-death experience when a driver rammed into her stall, smashing everything to pieces. She however escaped unhurt.

“This is a risk we have to live with. We are selling just a few inches away from the tarmac. While it is dangerous, the fact is that this place is convenient for customers because of the road junction,” she says.

“I know I will consume smoke on the road and sweat but that is not bad because when I go home after the business, I will take bath and rest like others with my money,” she says then bursts into a hearty laughter.

Alek says she hopes her struggles will inspire other single women. She says that it is important that a woman, particularly a single woman becomes self-sufficient financially.

“I started with my small table and a tray that I brought from my house. Now I can comfortably feed my children. I will be a complete woman the day I will see more and more women who have been in my shoes joining the train,” she says.

Right now she has established another branch of her business in Sherikat suburb, and she looks to open more in strategic places within Juba in the near future.

“It is good my business has grown. While I can employ a few to help me run the different businesses, I will be happier to see others joining me in this and other business as entrepreneurs,” says Alek.

She says women, whether single or not must take good care of their children, because people are single for different reasons.

“I am single because I have lost my husband, other people are single because of other reasons and some can even be single because their husband could not take care of their kids. If the woman is the one taking care of the family and the man is just there seated without doing anything, then that woman is single,” she says.