From Homeless to Top Entrepreneur.

"I dropped out of school in my 9th grade at age 12, only a few months after I lost my father. I then moved to the city with no family and no one to care for me - for 3 years I was homeless." Narrates Alhaji Siraj Bah, a 19 year old thriving entrepreneur from Sierra Leone, as he recalls his heartrending childhood. 

Fighter, as strong a word as it is, is not befitting to the strength of Alhaji Siraj Bah. When it comes to the description of his very essence with one term, Alhaji stands unmatched. 

Alhaji Siraj

Living in the West African country of Sierra Leone were he was born and bred, Alhaji was left to fend for himself at the tender age of 12. Subsequent to his father's death, and inability of his single and ill mother to take care of him. Whilst children his age were off enjoying the perks of being young and carefree, he was breaking his back, trying to secure a job to cater to his basic needs and replenish his disrupted education.

In a fortunate turn of events, Alhaji was taken in by a foster family, consisting of both parental figures, three sisters and two brothers, accommodated in place he came to call home. But fortune did not seem to last for the young man, as he lost them too, during the 2017 mudslide in the capital of Sierra Leone. That killed over 1000 people and left 3000 homeless, of whom Alhaji was a part of.

"I was supposed to be one of the many people that died that day, but I left for my job at the water factory were I spent most of my day." ~ Alhaji Siraj Bah. 

Deforestation and soil erosion, two of the main causes of the Sierra Leone mudslide. And two words that rang ever so resoundingly in Alhaji's mind, instigating the formation of his company; Rugsal Trading. One set to produce hand crafted paper bags and briquettes made from coconut shells in lieu of firewood or charcoal. Widely used products made from tree bark — the leading cause of deforestation.  

To realize his dream, Alhaji had to raise money, which he sought after by securing a factory job that saw him raise an equivalent of $20 in seed capital. And it was with this amount that he founded his company. He then faced the challenge of obtaining clients, as he was marketing to individuals as opposed to companies, who were more likely to buy his paper bags. He then changed his approach by targeting specific corporations, with a customised product that consisted of an imprinted company logo.

"After a difficult month I got a call from my first client, a hotel. It was a Sunday, I vividly remember. They ordered 1000 paper bags, and at the time I was working alone." ~ Alhaji Siraj Bah.

A mixture of emotion consumed Alhaji. On one had he was ecstatic that things had finally started to look up and on the other, anxious about delivering the order  — hand making a thousand paper bags... by himself... within a week. 

"50% down payment and clearance of the pending balance after product delivery." Alhaji claimed, strategically trying to secure enough money to buy the needed raw material, of which he emerged successful. 16 hours a day, he hand crafted the paper bags, one by one until they amounted to a thousand.

Paper Bags.
Since then, Alhaji has accumulated a steady stream of clients for his paper bags and briquettes, selling about 10,000 paper bags and about 600 briquettes a month to hotels, a local shopping complex and several individual clients.

From acquiring shelter with different friends, to spending nights within public infrastructure, such as cinema halls. Siraj finally managed to get a place of his own after he started to earn around $200 dollars a month. In a great show of humility, he took in some of his homeless friends whom he currently employs.

The year 2018 seemed to be rather promising  for the young man, as he set to apply for Africa's biggest award for her youngest entrepreneurs; The Anzisha Prize. After a gruelling selection process, Alhaji made the final 20 and came to represent his country at the African Leadership Academy in South Africa, were he emerged victorious. Walking away as the first runner up with a grand prize worth $15,000, all for his company; Rugsal Trading.  

Alhaji Post Receiving his Awards At The Anzisha Gala.

When asked about the future he envisions for Rugsal, Alhaji Siraj Bah vehemently expressed his desire to scale his business to other countries in the region. And ultimately continue to help mitigate the impact of deforestation and environmental degradation, by promoting eco-friendly alternatives for plastic and charcoal.

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