Making Bricklayers, Saving Livelihoods
Chimwemwe had always harboured ambitions of being a bricklayer. It was his passion, his goal, his dream and he was determined to fulfil the vision. There was one problem though, he had no financial capital to enrol at a vocational training school. His parents could not help either. They are both retired civil servants and rely on pension to survive. It was impossible to save part of the small monthly pension pay to support Chimwemwe’s aspirations of becoming a builder.
And because his parents do not earn enough, Chimwemwe knew that pursuing post-secondary education was a fairy tale. It would not happen. He realized that once he completed his secondary school, he would be stuck at home.
Actually, it happened exactly the way he thought it would. When Chimwemwe graduated from high school in 2014, he found himself doing nothing. Four years passed by. It was tough. He had to depend on his parents to support him but that was not easy on his parents either. The norm in most Malawian villages is that once a child completes his school, he has to become self-reliant and that mostly meant seeking employment.
However, finding a job in villages is extremely difficult and, at times, very impossible. Still, Chimwemwe understood that he had to stop depending on his parents and become a man. So he started working as a farm hand in gardens. He was paid less than what he expected, and this just made everything worse. Most of the times, he would labour and toil for up to 3 days but earn just MK2,000 (about USD3). The money was not sufficient to sustain his social well-being.
The responsibility doubled when his parents separated. Chimwemwe now took over the duty of taking care of his two brothers and three sisters. The new responsibility was a burden on Chimwemwe, who could hardly support his own livelihood. Suddenly, life became expensive and unbearable.
“I had to find new means of earning an income if I was to properly care for my family.” He narrated. He still had strong ambitions to pursue bricklaying but since he could not manage to pay for studies at a vocational training college, he had one option – pay one of the seasoned builders in the community to teach him the skills. However, that too was expensive. To be trained by such bricklayers, who never even attended formal training, Chimwemwe was supposed to pay a goat. Of course, he could not even afford that.
So with a broken dream, a difficult life and a challenging responsibility and no real means of making income, Chimwemwe lost hope.
“I accepted my fate and I told myself that I would never achieve my dream.” He recollected. Every tale has a turning point and Chimwemwe’s showed up in 2017. A youth network leader in his community, which is also one of the networks we work with, introduced Chimwemwe to a training opportunity at our vocational training centre. Chimwemwe did not hesitate to apply for a place and in 2017, he was among the selected candidates registered for bricklaying.
It was the break he had been waiting for. Chimwemwe was determined to excel in the training at all costs.
“It was something that has always been in my heart to pursue and I put all my effort to succeed in the course.” Even before he completed the training, the basic skills he gained made a big impression on the people in his community. When the people within his neighbourhood learnt that he was doing bricklaying, they started entrusting him with their construction projects in the village. Chimwemwe explained that this was partly because the other available bricklayers in the community never attended a vocational training course. The builders, he explained, learned the trade by being apprentices under other builders.
“People opted for me since I was the only qualified bricklayer in the neighbourhood.” He said, adding that because of that, they were interested to see his works. Chimwemwe’s handicraft left them awed and gained popularity far and wide. When he graduated 6 months later, the number of people flocking for his services increased. Several people started hiring him for their building projects.
His uncle was among them.
Chimwemwe’s uncle is an experienced bricklayer but he hired the young man to build a house he was contracted to construct. Chimwemwe, single handed, built the house with skills so professional that left his uncle in disbelief.
“He never believed that I could build such a beautiful house and from that day, I earned his respect.” Chimwemwe smilingly said. The hardships that Chimwemwe faced at first have minimized. He makes a living from the building projects he is hired for and he can now fully support his family. He now has an established source of cash – something that he never thought could happen.
“I am planning to build my own house too.” He explained, saying that he has already hired labourers to mould bricks for the house. “I have 7,000 bricks at the moment and very soon, I will start constructing the foundation.”
Success stories like Chimwemwe’s make us proud of the achievements that our vocational training graduates are accomplishing not only in their individual lives but also in their communities. It is our goal to ensure that the skills we equip our students with trickle down to the grassroots communities and extend to the whole country.