Meet Sierra Leone’s Essential Workers: The Airport Marshall
I am a 42-year-old Airport Marshall at the Freetown International airport in Lungi. After dropping out of senior secondary school in 1995 due to financial challenges, I had to find a job. First, I started to learn how to be an electrician. I did for a while until I worked as a monitoring officer for the Sierra Leone Airport Authority. After that, I got a job with a private contractor that does a handing here at the airport–that was 14 years ago.
As a Marshall, I know that there is a risk involved standing here on the tarmac, but I also love doing it. Things were good before COVID-19. I worked five times a week on a mixed shift, and we had about seven flights per week. I controlled over fifty percent of them.
But now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, our work has been dramatically affected. At some point, our government and other countries around the world had to close the air space to prevent the spread. For our company, the management had to do a seventy-five percent pay cut for most of us to survive during this challenging time. I was receiving the sum of SLL 1,500,000 per month, but due to the new decision, my monthly salary had to reduce to SLL 450,000. The other staff and I had to receive the pay cut for four months, until last month when they increased the pay to fifty percent. I went through so many challenges during this period, from feeding my family to paying rent.
When work slowed down at the airport, I had to turn back to my electrical skills to do odd jobs for friends and family. That is what got me going. My other worry is that schools are about to reopen, the cost of school materials is expensive. I haven’t saved anything else for my kids to return to school.