Bhan juggles roles with a smile

Bhan Maharaj poses in front of her products. Picture: PAULIASI MATEBOTO

DESPITE the struggles and the countless hurdles Bhan Maharaj has experienced in her 62 years, she remains warm, bubbly and positive.

She is an inspiration to women and girls because of her ability to juggle many roles, including being the sole breadwinner for her family.

Her husband is too sick to do any work and her daughter is married and lives with her in-laws. A salesgirl by profession, Ms Maharaj has come a long way from working in small shops for $60 a week to co-owning a boutique at the Suva Flea Market.

She said her life journey has not been an easy one.

Ms Maharaj said she became the sole breadwinner for her family when her husband became ill and had to resign from his work and stay home. “My husband got very sick.

He has high blood pressure, heart issues and short-term memory so he couldn’t work,” she said. “I decided for his safety it was best he stayed home because he was being bullied at work and made mistakes that we had to pay for.”

She said as a result of that, she had to take on the added responsibility of earning to meet her family’s needs.

Ms Maharaj said it was not easy being a salesgirl and supporting her family, but the thought of giving up never occurred to her. With the little she earned as a salesgirl, she was able to put her daughter through university where she graduated and was able to secure a good job.

“I used up all my FNPF (Fiji National Provident Fund) savings sending my daughter to FNU, but I knew it was worth it because when she graduated and worked at Fiji Revenue and Customs Service, I was very proud of her achievement. “She was able to get a good job, get married and now lives in New Zealand with her in-laws.”

Ms Maharaj said through her savings, she was also able to secure a stall at the Suva Flea Market where she sold ready-made dresses and shirts. “I do not have much knowledge about sewing, but I knew my sales experience would be of great help.

“So I buy material and give it the tailors to sew, then I sell the finished products.”

Just when business was beginning to pick up, things took a dramatic turn for the worse when the Suva Flea Market went up in flames in 2020. The blaze destroyed her stall and all its contents, resulting in a loss of about $15,000.

“I lost everything in the span of a few hours. “I lost my stall, the clothes and money I had earned that week. It was devastating.” Despite the drawback, Ms Maharaj persevered and worked hard to find ways and means to continue meeting her ailing husband’s basic needs.

“I applied for the government small business grant and was lucky to receive $3500 in total as assistance from them. “This enabled me to slowly start my business again. I bought plenty materials and started the process again.”

Unfortunately, she was not able to secure her own stall as she did not have enough funds to do so, but she managed to form an agreement with another vendor to share one of his stalls.

“I am sharing with another vendor. We are sharing the rent and the bills, so the cost has reduced, and it has helped me a lot.”

She said her experience in sales has been her greatest asset, as she knew and understood what customers wanted.

“I have learnt how to approach customers, how to talk to them and how to deal with the various personalities.

“The key is to know your product, be confident and always smile no matter what.”

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