Wheelbarrow transport is probably the most handy means of moving goods around Monrovia, especially in medium to manageably large quantities. The service usually appeals to shoppers who do bulk purchasing in the local markets and need to convey their heavy goods – for example, bags of rice, flour cement, etc. – to their vehicles or the nearest taxi.
Those who provide this service must however be strong and, they admit, they love their job. “We don’t have degrees to work in government or with companies and so we employ ourselves through this wheelbarrow business,” said Soma Mulbah, a 35-year old wheelbarrow pusher in Duala Market.
Harry Bowa, who is also involved in wheelbarrow transport at the Gobachop Market in Paynesville City for his part, expressed his delight at his self-employment when he recently spoke with our reporter.
Mr. Bowa disclosed that he has done wheelbarrow service in Monrovia and Paynesville for 7 years now, despite the perception in some quarters in the city that those involved in the business of pushing wheelbarrow are criminals that have no focus.
He stressed that though some of his colleagues may be criminals, majority of them are men who could not get job perhaps due to lack of the required skills and have decided to create their own opportunities by renting a wheelbarrow to transport loads for commuters and others from place to place.
“We rent the wheelbarrow from the owner for LD$50.00 a day. Whatever we make in a day remains ours and all the owner wants is L$50.00,” Harry noted.
From wheelbarrow services, Bowa has built a house for him and his family in Niglay Town after the Jacob Town community along the Somalia Drive. In addition, he noted that the business helps him pay tuitions for his four children.
For Richard Selma who joined the business since 1998, he agreed that it requires strength to go through and, depending on that, one can quickly acquire wealth with determination. Richard Selma, has since retired from active wheelbarrow duty and is now employed as Secretary for the Paynesville branch of the Wheelbarrow Union, told this reporter that people without job can make serious wealth out of this service.
Mr. Selma admitted that at times some wheelbarrow pushers run away with people's goods, but vowed that the Association has measures in place to arrest them. “We have people that keep watch on all of those involved in the wheelbarrow pushing business,” Selma added.
According to him, several measures including the issuance of identification cards to pushers as well as the numbering of wheelbarrows are being put into place in order to prevent criminals from infiltrating the union and absconding with people's goods.
Selma recounted that many a time customers would lose contact with wheelbarrow pushers while attending to other business. “When both of them lose contact with one another,” he said, “the pushers will report the goods to the office for safe keeping.”
Transporting by wheelbarrow is one business that has become popular in commercial towns and cities, including Liberia's capital, Monrovia.
The pushers are mainly men who take goods from one parking point to another.
“Being a business of hard labor,” Mr. Selma said, “women cannot do it; however, he said “they encourage those unemployed women to work in the Association’s offices. The only sad story is that no one has shown up.”
Wheelbarrow pushing business began in Liberia in the mid-1980s, but its popularity rose higher during and after the Liberian civil war. Before then – for many years, as far back as the 1930s or earlier – strong, men would wait around the market place waiting to carry a shopper’s load. Emerging from the market, the shopper would shout: “Yakpawolo!”, the name by which these hard-working men were called. Sources say they were also very honest. One of these men would show up and take his customer’s load on his back and tote it to a given destination, for a meager fee.
Today, yakpawolos are replaced by wheelbarrow boys/men, equipped with a tool that enables them to get more done, faster. In the midst of job scarcity, the work at hand requires no curriculum vitae or formal education, only strength, stamina and care when handling customers’ loads. Its no small job; the rewards – according to them – help to provide food, shelter and education for their families.