October 1, 2022

By Hassan I. Conteh

On a bright Saturday morning, some guys were busy washing motorcycles and vehicles along Fourah Bay College Road. This place, called Boma, used to be so boring over the years, but has recently changed owing to its facelift of a car wash multi-purpose structure earlier built by the Ministry of Youths Affairs (MYA).

Boma Car Wash is found on a curve just after a bridge while coming from Model new road leading up to FBC campus. The  area was particularly feared by many people, especially residents at Leicester Road and Mount Aureol communities, owing to a number of crimes happening there, but it has lately got some new looks.

The outlook of a building erected there has indeed changed everything. The house, a car wash centre, looks so dingy and gorgeous! It has an office space, a store, a room and a wide-open entrance toward the road. But what has surely not changed, in this area, is the increasing crime rates, allegations of police harassment of innocent youths and unfulfilled promises made by authorities.

“We are able to control our members here, but we still have reported cases of thefts and stabbings occurring upwards at Tigo-Pole. That place hasn’t houses around. So it makes it possible for some bad guys to always be on hideout,” confirmed Brima Conteh, aka Awoko, Bamb Road Youth Organization’s Secretary General.

With the intervention of the Youth Affairs Ministry, Boma Car Wash has adopted rules and regulations with five of the youths equipped with car washing skills.

The training, which lasted for a week, was part of the Ministry of Youth Affairs’ Youth Empowerment Car Wash and Service Project under the Bio-administration. It is also an initiative to fulfil President Julius Maada Bio’s Human Capital Development as promised since 2018.

Previously, the car washing activity, Awoko said, was separately done by individuals and the money paid by customers goes to an individual who might have cleaned up a vehicle. But, now, there is a structure which one needs to pass through.

The money collected directly, he said, goes to Boma Car Wash’s account, which is used to pay staff of about 40.

“Most of them work as casual workers. We pay them after their service, while the permanent staff receives something around Le300,000. But that depends on what we earn on a monthly basis. The work sometimes falls and rises. The ministry has actually helped us to gather our money as compared to those days,” Conteh emphasized.

But one of the youths dismissed Kamara’s claim that the fixed payment they receive is Le200,000.

Speaking about the ministry’s lofty promises, Conteh said that they are yet to see tricycles ‘kekes,’ and motorcycles ‘okadas,’ which the ministry had assured them of.

In the absence of pit stops and water pump devices, which they were also promised, it is common to see vehicles being washed on the side of the tarred road, thus rendering the road slippery for other vehicles passing by and even for pedestrians. It also makes it riskier for accidents to occur, as most cross over the street to fetch water with vehicles parked on the edge of the road.

Unlike other advanced countries, around the world, Sierra Leone’s car wash centres haven’t any parking lot. Those that seem to have are often found to be dirty with noticeable dampness owing to lack of pit stops. For instance, a car wash centre, at the entrance of Siaka Steven’s Stadium at Brookfields, west of Freetown, usually reeks as it gets damp.

The center hasn’t a pit stop and sachets of plastics could be seen all over with waste water spreading in the area, making the place unfit for visitors.

At Boma Car Wash, police harassment is also very common among youths who are often chased by these police officers, who are allegedly in the habit of chasing the boys. In fact, many of the guys regard police hot chase as a tactic employ to elicit money from them upon securing their release should an arrest be made.

“We still face challenges with police authorities who wrongly perceive us as criminals. If we are criminals, why would a ministry have built us an office? This place is no longer how it used to be,” Conteh cautioned.

Also, disappointedly, the promises of them being provided with motorcycles and tricycles have been skewed by authorities’ explanation.

“When we tell them about our many constraints, they tell us that they had done their part by providing us an office. They even say that we should not expect everything to be provided for us,” they complained.

Although Conteh agreed that the ministry had helped them with an office, still they called on the ministry to empower some of their members who aren’t on payroll with more vocational skills and with motorcycles through loan extension (s).

Boma, which used to be very lonely back in year 2000, is now becoming lively, as the business of washing vehicles booms.

“About 8 of us started coming here; we spent time and washed cars owned by students and authorities of FBC,” recalled, Daniel Williams, one of the youths at Boma Car Wash.

Every morning and late in the evening, youths, between 25 and 35 years, could be seen gathering around. And, at night, a good number of them sleep on some empty floors at the building.

During day time, they usually render assistance to strangers in need, especially victims of road accidents, they claimed.

Bamb Road Youth Organization goes with the motto: Work Hard Car Wash.

Ibrahim Kamara was among the five youths who had attended a practical training in car washing organized by the Ministry of Youth Affairs. He acts as a tally-coordinator for two groups, each comprising of 10 members. When asked how much they are paid to wash a vehicle, he explained: “There’s no fixed price list; we mostly charge Le10,000. Half of that goes to the office; the balance is given to the individual for soap and for feeding.”

These 20 men are regarded as the permanent workers who are entitled to a monthly pay after deduction by the ministry. Over eight youths were seen seated in and around the building with others looking distressfully.

Considering the level of poverty and economic hardship, in the country, the unemployment rate, among youths in Sierra Leone, is still very high. Most of the youths at Bamb Road told this press that they would love to be enlisted in the car wash job but were never considered by the ministry.

The unemployed youths would now have to depend on others who are paid a meagre sum as wages. With Le200,000 or 300,000 per month, even the ones fortunate to receive this could not be enough for them as inflation rates plague the country.

“The ministry told us that the money they deduct is kept for us should we have any major issue to address,” Kamara explained.

What seems as a help for these group of youths who are engaged in car washing, the Ministry of Youth Affairs actually gets steady income from deductions made as percentages, which couldn’t be quantified as those in charge of collecting the rates at these car wash centres became hesitant to reveal what the ministry gets in return.  And efforts to get the side of the Ministry of Youth Affairs remain futile.