03 May
  • By Isaac Msiska
  • Cause in

Earning cash, brick by brick

The year is 2016. Gelevaziyo Benson, a young man in his mid-twenties has just completed his secondary school education and is waiting for the next step. That next step is to study the art of building houses. That is his long-term passion. His uncle is in the building trade and the structures he builds, coupled with the money he makes from the career is Gelevaziyo’s source of inspiration. He wants to emulate the uncle. With this high ambitions in mind, the young man looks forward to a rewarding career, just like his uncle.

So, when a nearest public community technical college advertises for places in its vocational training programme, Gelevaziyo believes he has finally found the opportunity he was seeking. He wastes no time but jumps in and applies for a bricklaying course. He keeps telling himself that he would be among the successful intake of that year.

He is wrong.

When the list of successful candidates is released, his name is not there. Gelevaziyo never lets this moment discourage him so he tries applying to other public colleges but he never makes it to any of these colleges. The young man is disappointed and decides to give up the chase and give up his dream of pursuing a trade in building. In Malawi, Gelevaziyo’s story is not news. Competition for places at government run vocational technical colleges is very stiff and each year, hundreds of young men and women who apply for places are left out. The alternative to public technical colleges is enrolling at privately run vocational colleges but most young people like Gelevaziyo cannot afford the high tuitions in such institutions.

“In my case, I could not even bother to try applying for a place at a private technical college.” Said Gelevaziyo “I have no one to look up to for financial support. My parents live in the village and they are not employed.” The financial restrictions that Gelevaziyo experienced limited his strong desire to progress with his dream of training as a qualified builder. Besides that, challenge, the young man lived alone and struggled to fend for himself, meaning that the chances of acquiring a good source of money was almost impossible. This was a huge barrier to his vision.

That barrier was not to stay for long. After several failed attempts to secure a place at a public technical training institution, Gelevaziyo was introduced to our vocational training programme. It came at an opportune moment and when he heard the amount of money required as tuition, the news was almost too good to be true. More good news was to follow.

In 2017, Gelevaziyo found himself among the selected students of the bricklaying class at our vocational training centre. The excitement he felt at that time could not be expressed. At last, the dream he had been chasing all along was taking shape.

“When I sat in the room and took my first lesson in bricklaying, I felt privileged. Not many people have the chance to get vocational training at this fee.” Gelevaziyo remarked, referring to the highly subsidized ‘commitment fee’ that our students pay. His journey into the career of bricklaying started paying off even before the Gelevaziyo had graduated. A month before completing his studies, he got his first big job. He was hired to construct a three bedroomed house in a district about 300 kilometres from where he stays. Gelevaziyo built the house singlehandedly without any assistance.

“I wanted to show the people who hired me that I have what it takes to handle a complex job.” He boasted. Actually, the person who hired him was so impressed with how Gelevaziyo managed the job that he referred him to other people. He has since constructed more than seven houses for different individuals. He is slowly making sufficient income. It is not only people from afar who are fascinated by Gelevaziyo’s skills. Within the area he resides, many others have started approaching him as a consultant to seek advice or oversee their building works.

“These people understand that I am a professional builder and they trust my advice. Over here, I am the only person who underwent training in bricklaying. The rest do not have the education qualifications.” Gelevaziyo said, adding that most of these people usually look for advice on what materials to use on their buildings. The bricklaying course that he did is already rewarding Gelevaziyo in ways that he could have never imagined. Gelevaziyo is a small-scale soy and maize farmer. Besides working as a builder, he also heavily relies on subsistence farming. He explained that the income he gets from the jobs he gets hired for has enabled him to improve his farming. He recently invested more than MK100,000 in his farm – something that he could hardly do before. He expects to yield more harvests this year.

This is no mean achievement. In Malawi, any type of farming – large or small-scale – is expensive and requires a lot of money to maintain. In villages where people rely on subsistence farming, very few can succeed in sustaining their gardens due to high costs of farm inputs.

Gelevaziyo has bigger plans. He explained that he wants to start a small business venture in bricklaying and employ other people. He foresees himself opening a large construction company that would operate nationwide.

“I am determined and I know that I will achieve this goal.” He closed.