It is January 27, 2007, an extraordinarily warm and clear Saturday afternoon. I and a friend, who is accompanying me, as a photographer, set out to complete the task of interviewing one of Sierra Leone’s distinguishing native born businessman/entrepreneur. It seems almost ironic that we are headed close to the very place where the nature of the United States politics, social and economic ideas are formed and founded. We are driving towards the District of Columbia, where conversations surrounding politics can stick to ribs like homemade barbecue and the sound of Go Go music permeates the air with the beat of a rhythm moving to the sound of the next great story, waiting to be told.
Once we finally reach our destination, we struggle to park the jeep onto a small parking area, just outside of a quaint brick building occupied by several small businesses. We walk past several offices until we get to Suite 204. The door is opened and we are suddenly standing in a small area. My friend and I are greeted by a man through a type of store front-window and then lead through a door to where an office is located, with several desks in plain eyes view. The small store-front window can be seen from behind now, as we sit on a comfortable black leather couch, prepared to wait for Mr. Barrie, in what seems like a very busy office, where space seems to be of no real importance. This is a place where people come, at an even flow, to send and pick up money to and from their families back home, in Africa. It is amazing to see that it is all taking place, through a small store front- window.
We are visited, just minutes later by a man with a powerfully charging presence. Mr. Barrie speaks in a rather serious tone, and I am secretly hoping that he will be a friendly and even- tempered fellow. Following closely behind, who Mr. Barrie would later reveal, are his two youngest sons. He quickly disappears into his office, closing the door behind. It would appear to me that love of country is or may be constituted by one person at a time as one comes to realize and accept the commonality of social, economic and political states of fellow countrymen and vowels to participate and/or contribute to the uniformed acceptance of same ideas and values of the people as a whole. I, coming to the realization, was looking with great anticipation to my interview with Mr. Abu Bakarr Barrie.
Moments later, he is standing before us, inviting, my friend and me into his private office. Upon entering, I notice, almost immediately, pictures of his family, no doubt, and several awards that spring out at me like that of a colorful rainbow, stretched across a calming sky. There is a small calendar on the wall and maybe one other picture. His office is not adored with lavish things, but rather plain and situated more for work as apposed to appearance and comfort. There are two chairs facing his large desk. As, my friend and I sit comfortably in the chairs, there is a faint smile that emerges upon the face of the man that appears, at first, to be rather serious and distant. Mr. Abu Bakarr Barrie, a self made man, sits down with me, and unfolds a life’s story; a story that begins with a profound power within, a man, who unshackles, rescues and aids, in helping, scores of people lift themselves and their communities above and beyond devastation.
With attentive ears, there is a desire to know all that there is to know about Sierra Leone and the many other African, communities, that Mr. Barrie generously contributes, through that of his own company, (People’s Enterprises, Inc.) and the use and support of several organizations and developmental programs, such as The Telgloma Organization, The Pujeham District, The Tullah Progressive Union, The Koya Progressive Organization, The Tullaho Program and The Bondesia Organization in Washington D.C., of which he has received several awards and recognitions. I should add that there are several other awards and achievements, not present, of which he spoke about in some detail. He says that he keeps many of his awards and recognitions, at his home, where they can be close to his heart. It is rather astonishing to note how Mr. Barrie manages to put in context the strife of Sierra Leone and other African nations, as they struggle to rise above the many different conflicts that still exist.
Mr. Barrie’s appearance is that of a tall, distinguishing looking man, who is dressed in a gray business suit accompanied by a matching scarf, while sporting, what looked to be, a cashmere hat, to boot. The more he speaks, the more he reveals a rather serious, industrious and lively soul, often possessing a cool smile, amidst a bit of sunlight that peeps out, through the glassy eye, of partially drawn blinds inside of his office window.
Mr. Abu Bakarr Barrie was born on September 1959 in Sierra Leone, a Sub-Sajara, country west of Africa that borders the North Atlantic Ocean, between Guinea and Liberia. He is candid to reveal his middle class status when asked about his parents and up-bringing. His father was a Cattle Trader, who owned a cattle-ranch. When the British gave up power, his father became a Look Out-President which is equivalent to what we know in the United States, as a Chief Judge. His mother was a homemaker. He admits that there were others who may have had more material possessions than he, but he never noticed them having more or envied them, because his father made sure he had everything he could ever need or want, as a child and then as a young man. He doesn’t remember ever having to struggle as a youth but he has seen much struggle while growing up, around him. When asked what his visions were, while growing up, he replies: To become a successful man and to help the needy because that is what my father did. I have always helped because that is how I grew up.
SIERRA LEONE, A COUNTRY DETERMINED TO RISE
Sierra Leone was colonized in the 18th and 19th centuries and gained its independence in 1961. The brutality of a civil war in 1991 that was initiated by the (RUF) the Revolutionary United Front, lasted for over ten years and created a period of suffering and devastation; however, peace was regained in 2001, after the British troops were deployed in Operation Palliser to evacuate foreign nationals and establish order. Although there were other forces involved, such as the UN (United Nations ), the OAU (Organization of African Unity, and several neighboring countries in restoring peace and order, the British Forces served as a sort of catalyst for a ceasefire and slowly brought about an ending to the civil war. However, it wasn’t until January of 2002 that President Kabbah declared the civil war officially over. Sierra Leone is slowly making its way to become established once more, with the help of the UN and International Communities, as well as, dedicated country-men and women, like Mr. Barrie, who has a profound love for his home-land. When asked about politics, Mr. Barrie says: I am a businessman. I am not interested in politics. I don’t like a lot of endings for politicians. That is to say that he doesn’t like how most of the politicians end up in terms of their positions and rhetoric. I am well known amongst many of them because some of them come to me for help by way of sending money home to their families and sometimes require my assistance in several organizations that are designed to help the needy. Being a business man who is active in many of the communities here and abroad, it is, often times difficult for me, not to be involved in some of the conversations referencing politics, but that’s as far as it goes.
A TRUE PIONEER AND BUSINESSMAN/ENTREPRENEUR
In listening to Mr. Barrie, one could conclude that he is a powerfully strong and determined man who has a certain charisma that seems to pull people together and win their trust in an attempt to solve one situation after another.
Mr. Barrie exudes a kind of affable charm, yet to talk with him up close and personal and to hear him speak in a voice that is often stern, strong and direct, speaks volumes of why his life is the success story that it is today. He says that when people use his services, their money is sure to reach its destination. He says that he can be trusted. He is a devoted husband and father of four sons and one daughter. I have to laugh when I share with you, what he says next and that is: If a man can be trusted with another mans woman and his money, then that man can definitely be trusted. He is adamant about being faithful to his wife and his family, when acknowledging that there are several beautiful women that come to him for assistance from his country. I am about exporting and importing money, making money and nothing more, he says, and besides he adds, I believe that when you are honest and believe in the mere fact that the more you give, the more you get back in return, you will be blessed every time.
When asked, what type of jobs he experienced while on the road to becoming an entrepreneur he tells me a story that is phenomenal. He says that although he has traveled around the world, he has been and is impressed by the possibilities of success and achievement in the United States. He boast, just a little, that he is able to find his way in any country he so desires to visit or reside. His boyish smile is highly apparent, as it becomes obvious that, he can’t believe himself, when he says that he used to drive a pop-sickle truck. He worked for Good Humor Ice Cream for 10 years, 7 days a week. He laughs, once more, when he calls himself a previous street vendor.
THE MAKING OF PEOPLE ENTERPRISES
In 1990, Mr. Barrie went back to his country, Sierre Leone where he purchased 9 automobiles. The war in Libya had spread into Sierra Leone and his cars were later burned by Rebels, all except one. He sold the one car, the vacant lot and his house. He needed to figure out a way to get his money to the United states after realizing that all comers in and out of the country was closed as a result of the civil war and its conflict. He asked and some people sought him out, to send monies back to the United States. At that time people gave and trusted him to deliver nearly six thousand dollars to relatives. He continues to say that the money was delivered, as promised. This dilemma sparked an idea and today he is the Founder and CEO of People’s Enterprises, Inc., located at 5504 Kenilworth Ave. Ste 204, in Riverdale, MD. Through this organization he imports and exports monies to African countries, such as Sierra Leone, to help feed, cloth and educate families. When his telephone rings at 3 a.m. in the morning, because there is sometimes a person who is calling about monies that was sent and never arrived: He cannot vouch for other organizations but he does vouch for his own company, People’s Enterprises. He says that whatever is sent, will get there as promised. When asked, how he manages to do it all, he smiles, through pressed lips and says that he doesn’t know the answer to that. He says that his business stretches beyond money but is more of a concern and work towards the welfare and needs of others. He gives all of the glory to God and that it is because of a higher power that the money gets to its destination every time. He often thinks back at the times when the Rebels would go in to the money-transfer ports, and take all the money, at gun point. It never stopped him. He just kept going.
He says that there were often times that he could get money through to places that other import and export businesses, simply could not, especially during the times of the civil war, when people were sending money to relatives so that they could flee to safer grounds. He also adds that his fees are unusually cheaper, making it more affordable to anyone who wishes to use his services.
As I am now prepared to close the interview with this extraordinary individual, this honest and caring man, this leader, this devoted husband and father of five, I cannot help but to ask, what seems the obvious question: You seem to have done so much already, what are you going to do next? He smiles, looking once again, as if he can see my soul, through sparkling African eyes. I will keep pushing for the rest of my life. There will be no buy-outs from Western Union, Money Gram or anyone else. I will just keep doing what I’m doing, helping my people in the mother-land and trusting in God.
Kathryn Carrington is a freelance writer and author
Pictures photographed by Curfew Lancaster