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Inspire Salone Series: Overcoming Struggles in Life


By Eunice Naffie Mustapha

We sometimes crave a perfect life. But life itself isn’t perfect; it can hit us so hard sometimes that we need much willpower to climb out of darkness. Meet Mariama Munia Zombo, a survivor!

The First Hit

Born on 7th September 1971, Mariama Zombo’s parents were both teachers. As a curious girl, she thought it was just the perfect home, as she was surrounded by knowledge. Her papa and mama could teach her everything in her little world. Her world with two pillars pouring love constantly.

And then it hit! Death snatched her papa away. Her papa was there one day; the next day, he was no more. She was just 10 when she lost her papa in a car accident. Even though it’s been 40 years since her papa died, it still feels like yesterday to her. According to Mariama Zombo, her papa’s death was her first major challenge in life. She had to deal with grief at a tender age.

Moving on 

“I made books my world.”

After losing her papa at age 10, she found comfort in books. Her mama carried the burden of raising her and her 3 siblings. Though her mama was amazing with them, it was a tough experience growing up with a single parent. Her mama underwent pressure to educate them. But she was determined to make her mama happy and proud by studying hard to become a graduate, which she achieved in 1994 by attaining her Bachelor of Science in Education/ Biological Sciences (BSC. Ed.) at Njala University, Sierra Leone.

Then, love said hello, and she fell in love so hard that she ended up marrying the love of her life. Life was just perfect and full of sparkles and laughter. God even blessed her with two adorable kids, a boy, and a girl, as she had always wanted kids. It was a dream come true for her. Life had gone as planned, and she could embrace happiness forever. She was living her dream life!

Another Hit 

Suddenly, everything started crumbling one after the other. She discovered that her only son had Sickle Cell Anemia. Seeing her son struggle through the indescribable pain brought her so much agony.  She eventually lost him at age 18. Mariama Zombo watched her happiness stripped away from her. She was alive, but she watched parts of her die. Why her? Why her? Questions unanswered!

Another Try

Mariama Zombo broke down for some time but had to pick herself up and be a light for her baby girl and her husband. It was time to set the bar so high for her surviving daughter. She had already acquired her Master of Science (MSc.) Degree in Development Studies from Njala University, Sierra Leone. Nonetheless, she took another course and attained a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree at the same university.

Mariama Zombo flew with organizations and impacted the lives of children, young people, and families. She was renowned for her Communications, Gender Advocacy, Hygiene, and Food & Nutrition work at Plan International, implementing projects with DFID, EU, WFP, etc. She also worked with UNICEF as a Communication for Development -WASH Specialist. Mariama also engaged in independent work and provided Consulting Services for several organizations in and out of Sierra Leone. For her, it was about raising the bar high for her baby girl and family and serving her society. However, as she reached a high turn in her development career, when she started flying faster, life’s bullet hit again.

The Strong Wave

This time, the hit was not indirect; it came for her! Mariama Zombo lost both her kidneys. They both failed her during a surgery that went wrong at a hospital in Sierra Leone, according to her. She had to be evacuated to another country to receive life-saving treatment and was on dialysis for almost 2 years, moving from one country to another, desperately seeking medical care.

According to her, she was destabilized and lost focus. There were days when she wanted it to end and had no hope. Some friends and family members deserted her. During her interview, she stated that some people don’t like to be associated with problems. But she also had her loving and caring mother, husband, siblings, cousins, other family members, and friends who supported her and cared for her needs during this traumatic period of her life. Mariama Zombo believes that God has brighter and better plans for her.

Light Shone

One of Mariama Zombo’s cousins offered to donate a kidney to her, but they could not match medically. Then God sent another angel in human form, another cousin, who saved her life by willingly donating one of her kidneys to her. She could not sit back and watch her dearest cousin die. Her gesture brought so much joy and life to Mariama and the whole family!

She became hopeful and joyful as God gave her a second chance to live. Mariama Zombo became a cheerful patient, rejoicing each day. She was nicknamed the ‘Dancing Patient’ at the hospital where she was admitted in India. Her previous feelings of hopelessness transformed into a glorious feeling as her struggles turned around.

Mariama Zombo shared that her experience taught her to value the right people in life. Her husband, her mom, her daughter, her donor cousin, and other loved ones who never left her side. They were so positive that she could make it. Even when she had given up on herself, they did not give up on her. She saw light, and suddenly, it dawned on her.

“My pains were meant to help me build a better life.”- Mariama Zombo

Finding Her Feet 

After a successful surgery in India, Mariama Zombo and her donor cousin came back home to Sierra Leone, and she had to rest. During her recovery stages, so much love was poured on her. She then realized that knowing who’s got you has nothing to do with when life is merry but when life hits you. One doesn’t have to be rich or poor to show concern; one has to care. It’s not about having countless people in your life but identifying those who care about you.

Being proactive, she became bored with resting. She wrote poems expressing her emotions, hoping to publish them soon. She also explored every other creative aspect of herself.

On her way back from India, she bought cotton face masks, which she loved and used to protect herself from air-borne diseases, including the coronavirus, which had just hit Asia and threatened Africa and other parts of the world. She was the type of person who hated surviving through others and preferred financial independence, so she felt rather uncomfortable doing nothing. At that moment in her life, Mariama had to overcome boredom, explore her creativity, create social impact, and make money. Then the solution hit! She could replicate the masks she had brought home from India.

Mariama Zombo then partnered with local tailors and started producing face masks. She started making money right from home. As her face mask business thrived, she started exploring the fashionista in her and began producing masks with matching outfits. Her marketing skills were so great that she landed a contract to produce over 80,000 masks.

Don’t forget that this is the same woman who almost died, and she was picking herself up from scratch.

Mariama Zombo then used the profits from her business to start a food enterprise, another unfulfilled dream she fulfilled after escaping death. Not owning a restaurant and having her home as her place of business, Mariama Zombo had people sleep over at her house to prepare breakfast for sale. The breakfast business was the right target for her as people were mostly too busy to prepare breakfast. She saw an opportunity and tapped into it.

That was just the start; she went further to invest the profits from her breakfast business to start Muniazee Creations Restaurant at Adonkia, Western Area, Sierra Leone. Her struggles with kidney failure had taught her about the importance of eating healthy. Serving healthy food is a must for her! Her restaurant also sells smoothies, packaged fruits, and other products.

After losing everything and fighting tough battles, Mariama Zombo, whose 50th birthday is tomorrow, can boast of being self-employed with 8 workers on the payroll. She did not only create a job for herself; she also created jobs for others.

Happy Birthday in advance Mariama Zombo!

Her Message to Young Sierra Leoneans

“Hang out with people who build you, who make you grow. Don’t hang out with people who make you feel less. Sometimes, it’s best to keep some things private and tell only close people. If you meet good people in life, keep them close, and don’t let them go or take them for granted because very good people are hard to come by, but they’re there. They’re going to be your support in times of trouble. Don’t kill yourself to please people. Work hard, dress well, look good, make money, and be nice to people. Always have faith, pray daily, and talk to God anytime, like a friend. Life is not a straight path. Don’t depend 100% on people to support you. No matter the circumstance, stay positive and try to be independent. Think out of the box, be innovative, and hustle like your life depends on it. Most importantly, help others, be prayerful, and remain faithful. ”- Mariama Zombo

A Survivor’s story!

About Writer

Eunice Naffie Mustapha is a creative writer and storyteller. She is a published author (Girlz Planete: Teenage Pregnancy). As the CEO of Nafisa Media Limited, she believes in using stories to inspire social change. Eunice is a Sierra Leonean content writer renowned for submitting content to individuals and entities locally and internationally.

Eunice Naffie Mustapha interviewing Mariama Zombo
Eunice Naffie Mustapha at Mariama Zombo’s restaurant
Mariama Zombo holding Girlz Planete: Teenage Pregnancy written by Eunice Naffie Mustapha

Photo Credit: Moseray Koroma (Super Mos Photography): +23278145373/+23288914840


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