From performing odd technician jobs for peers and soldiers in the Ħal Far open centre to running his own thriving electronics store on Ħamrun’s main street, 37-year-old Togolese Jacob Yakubu Romanu used his talent for tech to make a living for himself in Malta.
In 2007, Romanu arrived by boat to Malta as an asylum seeker. He spent three years in the Ħal Far open centre, in which he became known for his expert skills in repairing electronics.
“I remember my friend’s TV in the open centre had broken, and I went to fix it. Soon word spread and I was known as the Ħal Far technician.”
Soon Romanu became the go-to person for any technological woes: TV repairs, broken mobiles and tablets, anything that had some kind of motherboard.
“Even soldiers would use my services,” Romanu added.
He began to offer his services beyond the centre, and would travel to Buġibba, Sliema, Birzebbuġia and other places across the islands to give them.
“I’d get so many calls – my whole day would be travelling to people’s homes who heard about me. Then, I got some small stock of mobile covers and sold them too,” he continued.
After leaving the centre, he was scouted by a Maltese electronics store owner and started his first full-time job in Malta.
But his ambition was to open his own store.
“A friend of mine told me about a place on Ħamrun’s main street, it was a charity shop that was looking to close down and be rented.”
Romanu approached the owner, Pauline, to say he was interested but didn’t have the funds to pay rent or buy stock, because he couldn’t open a bank account because of his status.
The two went to Malta Microfinance, a non-profit that helps vulnerable people with little avenues for banking to fund projects.
Romanu managed to secure a few thousands to get his business up and running. Jacob’s electronics store was born.
“He is definitely one of our success stories,” Christa, an officer from Malta Microfinance told Lovin Malta.
“He was never late on a single payment and he managed to keep his accounts in meticulous order. We’re still in contact.”
Today, Jacob’s electronics store is an unmissable feature on Joseph Street, Ħamrun. It’s blue facade twinkles with multi-coloured lights, together with mobiles, covers and other gadgets that make up its windows.
Besides selling chargers, mobiles, covers and other things, Romanu also repairs TVs and other appliances in the back. He greets every client with a huge smile and warm greeting, speaking Togolese, Arabic, English and even near-perfect Maltese.
“Business is great. It’s always full in the afternoon.”
While the business is thriving, Romanu still keeps his other job at the Santa Venera electronics store.
But when asked about the next step in his life adventure, his avenues are narrow because of his status on temporary humanitarian protection.
“I’ve been approached by big electronics agents to open a bigger store, but really what’s the point?”
“I can’t buy a house, I can’t settle here,” he lamented while repairing a TV motherboard in the back.
Romanu has been in Malta for 13 years. In order to apply for Maltese citizenship, he’ll have to wait another two years. Even then, there’s no guarantee he’ll receive it because it’s entirely up to the discretion of the minister concerned.
“I’m happy where I am now, I’m not complaining. What happens in the future will happen.”
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