Mary took on the care of two young nieces after the death of her sister from Ebola.

“I feel good because I no longer have to borrow from friends or pay them back late. I have my own money now to run my own business.”

Mary is better able to take care of her nieces with her new business Sierra Leone Ebola Y Care International Mary is better able to take care of her nieces with her new business. Photo: Helen Animashaun/YCI

My name is Mary and I am 25. I grew up in Freetown, Sierra Leone, but came to Makeni to look after my nieces who are now 3 and 11. When I first arrived in Makeni, I didn’t have a business and things were difficult.

I had to start selling somehow, so I made ‘pap’ (like porridge.) I would wake at 4am, prepare the food, and walk every day to sell. Sometime the money was not enough.

I was invited to the YMCA where they talked about entrepreneurship training. I felt so relieved when they told me I could join because I knew it would be a help for me.

I learnt so many things on how to improve a business – how to sell food in a clear area that looks good, how to talk to customers so they come back. I now know how to use my money`just fine’. After training, I received money from YMCA to help set up a new business and bought items I couldn’t afford before like big pots, plates, and extra wood for the fire. Now I sell ‘culture rice’ (rice and bean mix.)

I used to buy extra things not connected to the business. Now I pay myself from the business and I only use that to buy basics like clothes, medication, and food. I learnt not to use the profit for personal reasons and to save it to help take care of my nieces.

My profit from pap was about 15,000 SLL (Sierra Leonean Leone – £1.94.) Now because I make more money from culture rice I make about 20-25,000 (£3.25) a day.

Now, life is better for me. I can make savings, which will help me pay for the eldest to go to school. I also add more to the Osusu (local savings group) by contributing 10,000 SSL.

Because of the customer care advice I learnt on the training, my customers know me. If I’m sick and don’t go out to sell, the customers are worried about me. They call me to see how I am and they never used to do that.

My dream is grow my business so I can go to Freetown and trade at the bigger markets and sell used clothes. I didn’t go to school because I used to help look after the family – so my hopes are for my nieces to be educated to the highest level.