From Fish Smoking to Safe Cold Fish Preservation:
Ngada Chalie's Journey to Alternative Livelihood
PUBLISHED MARCH 3, 2023
The story of Ngada Chalie is a testament to the transformative power of entrepreneurship and community-led initiatives in promoting sustainable economic development in impoverished regions..
Empowerment they say is often built on the foundation of courage, hard work and individual responsibility. Ngada Chalie is one such example who fought very hard to achieve that in her little way.
Born in Bonthe district, one of the poorest districts in Sierra Leone, Ngada did not receive a formal education because her parents were unable to pay her school fees and take care of other school materials. Her parents depended on small-scale fishing to earn a living. Their income catered for household, medical and other expenses. The Bonthe Municipality lacked access to potable drinking water, electricity and good health facilities. Due to her family's hardship, Ngada was married off at a very early age to reduce the burden on her family. Living in a district that is predominantly known for fishing and agriculture, Ngada and her husband’s economic activities were fishing and fishmongering. Ngada depended on fishmongering to cater for her seven children.
Due to her family's hardship, Ngada was married off at a very early age to reduce the burden on her family. Living in a district that is predominantly known for fishing and agriculture, Ngada and her husband’s economic activities were fishing and fishmongering. Ngada depended on fishmongering to cater for her seven children. Over the twenty-five years of fish mongering, Ngada Chalie used the profits generated from her business to cater for the educational, nutritional and medical needs of her children. Her husband's inability to provide adequately coupled with her lack of financial literacy and education meant that she had no savings to show and investments. Throughout her marital years, Ngada used the fish catch of her husband for business. She smoked the fish in her “banda”, a mud hut used for processing fish before putting it on sale. This is a routine activity she had been doing throughout her years of fishmongering. Decades of exposure to carbon monoxide and low light within that enclosed structure left Ngada with eyesight problems. She could hardly see or recognize images from a distance and she was advised by a medical doctor to stop participating in the fish smoking business. This was advice Ngada found extremely difficult to adhere to because she had no alternative source of livelihood aside from fish smoking. She was concerned about how she would be able to cater for her children especially when she had to pay the tuition fees for two of them who had secured university admission in 2020.
“I did not believe that I could continue this life because I could not take care of my children when I was told to stop the only business I had known my entire life. My husband is aged and does not bring home as much as is expected to take care of the numerous responsibilities. My desire of educating my children was almost dashed away by the ailment but I fought very hard to ensure that I found an alternative business”, she explained.
While the search for engaging in some form of business was ongoing in 2021, Ngada came in contact with SEND Sierra Leone, one of the few non-governmental organizations operating in Bonthe Municipal Island. The organization was mobilizing fishmongers and fishermen into groups under a project called the Bonthe Island Fish Trading (BIFT) project implemented in partnership with Terra Tech. Without any hesitation, Ngada joined the group that was formed in her community and was elected as the Chairlady to superintend the affairs of the group and its membership
Ngada and her group members participated in several economic and resource mobilization training including the Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) training, ASSET and SALT training, and the Competency-based Economies through the Formation of Entrepreneurs (CEFE) training. These different training sessions equipped the group members with the relevant skills and inculcated a mentality driven by entrepreneurship and financial independence through savings and investments. With such motivational training, they continued saving the profits they earn from their various businesses.
After a year (2022), the group conducted their share-out to mark the end of the first savings cycle. Ngada received the sum of Le 2,300, equivalent to $200.
Having deemed it necessary to embark on another business with less impact on her health, Ngada purchased a freezer to provide fish and perishable item preservation services within her community. Due to the lack of electricity within the municipality, she resorted to purchasing industrial-grade ice blocks from the Yagoi Cold Storage facility located at Yagoi.
The Yagoi Cold Storage Hub was constructed by SEND Sierra Leone and its partner, Terra Tech Förderprojekte e.V with financial support from the Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development of Germany (BMZ) under the Bonthe Island Fish Trading (BIFT) project. The hub comprises a 40ft cold storage facility, a fishing inventory shop, an ice-block production machine, a purified water manufacturing station and a Credit Union.
As a respected woman within the community, Ngada built a strong relationship with the fishermen and other fishmongers by selling the need for safe fish preservation through her services at a fee. This idea was bought by many fishermen, fishmongers and traders who understood the struggle of losing income due to the inability to properly preserve fish. From the daily safe preservation of fish within her community, she earns an income.
“Previously, I earned little from fish smoking and with health and environmental risks accompanied with it; but with the freezer, I earn much higher than how it used to be and with no potential risks attached to it. Thanks to SEND and Terra Tech for providing me with the training to attain this alternative source of livelihood”, she joyfully explained.
Ever since Ngada transitioned from fish smoking to fish preservation through freezing, Ngada's potential eyesight problems have improved. She is now a happy woman and has expressed interest in taking a loan from the Credit Union to purchase solar panels to improve her preservation service and establish a charging centre to bolster her economic empowerment.