How To Succeed In Business After Fleeing For Your Life

Aug 20, 2017
Originally published on September 2, 2017 8:04 am

Imagine the worst has happened to your family. You've been forced to flee your home.

You eventually make it to safety. But now you're living in a camp for displaced persons.

You don't want to just depend on handouts. So how do you make a living?

That is what happened last year to 43-year-old Modu Churi, a father of seven from Mijigini village in Borno state in northeastern Nigeria, a region blighted by violence during the militant Boko Haram's eight-year insurgency. Now they live at Muna Customs House camp in Maiduguri, the main city in the northeast, along with more than a million and a half other people uprooted by the fighting.

In his village, Churi had earned a living by charging and selling phones. He needed a new source of income.

And then it clicked — he could attempt a similar startup in the camp.

He noticed that people who had lost almost everything still had their cellphones and a few smartphones.

"So I decided, OK, let me start up a little business and I thought about opening up a phone-charging point," says Churi, speaking in Hausa, the lingua franca of northern Nigeria.

He says he used his life savings of about $160 to purchase a generator and set up what has turned into a viable little enterprise. The generator is essential because power cuts are common in Maiduguri.

Churi is a tall man who towers over his makeshift booth. He has set up shop in the stairwell of an unfinished three-story brick building that has been taken over by persons who are displaced. He displays a few handsets for sale, plus colorful accessories to attract customers.

From a half floor up, you look down on an array of mostly old-style cellphones splayed out on the dusty floor, plugged into an adapter fueled by the generator for a charge.

Churi charges to charge the phones, earning money to look after his family.

Three little boys peek out from beneath the stall as Churi tells his story. "Even here in Muna camp, I can earn money and care for my family," he says, looking at the children. "At times, when there's a market for this business, I charge about 50 phones. At times, up to a hundred phones a day."

So how much does it cost to charge a phone? It's affordable, says Churi, 10 cents per phone. At times, he says with a smile, he makes nearly $13 a day. "Alhamdulillah. We thank God, the market for phone charging is good," he says.

Churi dreams of heading home to Mijigini with his family. "I'm planning to go back home. Now I have the generator, so I'll use it in my village — because people will always use cellphones, yah."

"I trust I'll do well continuing this same business once I'm back home," Churi says hopefully, flashing another broad and positive smile.

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So imagine that violent extremists have forced you to flee your home. Your family has made it out safely. But now the question is, how do you make a life? How do you make a living? NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports from a camp for displaced people in northeast Nigeria.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Modu Churi is a tall man who towers over the makeshift booth where he set up shop in the stairwell of an unfinished three-story building taken over by refugee squatters. Churi was driven from his home in the town of Mijigini last year by Boko Haram fighting. Now he lives in the regional capital Maiduguri, which hosts more than a million and a half people uprooted by violence. Most have lost practically everything. But many still have their phones, and those phones need to be charged.

MODU CHURI: (Through interpreter) I have little amount of money left with me after I left my village for this place. So I now decided, OK, let me start up a little business. So that is why I thought of a charging point, then I started.

QUIST-ARCTON: Forty-three-year-old Churi, a father of seven, has a generator because power cuts are common in Maiduguri. He says his life savings of 50,000 naira, about $160, helped him purchase the generator and set up, if not a big business, at least a viable little enterprise charging mobile phones. Even here in Muna Customs Camp, Churi tells us, as three curious little boys peek out from beneath the small stall. Churi says this work means he earns money to look after his family.

CHURI: (Through interpreter) At times - when there is market, at times I used to charge, like, 50 phones - at times, up to hundred phones in a day.

QUIST-ARCTON: Churi charges what people can pay, he says, an affordable 30 naira, 10 cents per phone. At times, I make 3,000 or 4,000 naira a day, the equivalent of nearly $13, says Churi, smiling.

CHURI: (Through interpreter) We thank God. The market is moving.

QUIST-ARCTON: But Modu Churi dreams of leaving the displaced people's camp in Maiduguri in northeast Nigeria and heading back to Mijigini with his family.

CHURI: (Through interpreter) I'm planning to go back home. I want to go back home. I have a generator here, so I will use the generator for the business. Yeah. It is a good work, so that is the reason why I said, OK. Let me just venture into it, since people are using their cellphones here.

QUIST-ARCTON: And it seems Churi's customers are satisfied.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Maiduguri.