Following the demise of his father in 2013, John’s journey to complete his education was hit a sudden blow. Worse, John’s father, a renowned carpenter in the village that John comes from, provided for the family and his death crippled the family’s finances. John’s mother is not employed and her main means of survival was on her husband which meant that she was now left alone to take care of John, his brother and younger sister. Although John comes from a family of seasoned subsistence farmers, they barely made enough money from the sales of their crops to keep the family sustained. Actually, the carpentry business that John’s father ran complemented the family’s small-scale farming but now since he was gone, John’s mother found herself solely relying on the farm.
It was not easy for the family. 80 percent of the rural communities in Malawi rely on subsistence agriculture. However, the unreliability of rainfalls and inflation makes farming a very expensive field to maintain, causing many rural farmers to experience financial hurdles and poverty. That is the predicament that John’s family faced. As a single mother, putting John and his siblings through school while at the same time providing the basic essentials for the family without a job was a heavy burden for John’s mother.
The problem trickled to the education of John, his brother and sister. Realizing that she will not be able to manage to send all the children to school, John’s mother was forced to withdraw John’s sister from school and prioritize John and his brother’s education. This is not a strange scenario in most Malawian villages where poor families prioritize the education of the male child over the female.
A year later, when John was in Form 2 in secondary school, he too was forced to drop out because the financial difficulties his mother faced had become worse.
“I was psychologically affected”, explained John “I had to drop out to help my mother fend for the family.” John was the oldest child and, according to him, that meant he had the responsibility of helping his mother to look after the family. Looking after the family implied that John had to hunt for menial jobs to earn money, which was not exactly fun. Having dropped out of school, John had no qualifications that would allow him to get a decent job. This posed a problem because the only part-time jobs that John could get were demeaning and undignified.
Most of the times, John was involved in river sand mining. He would partner with a group of friends and using just their shovels as dredgers, the boys would spend the whole day at the nearest river, scooping sand from the water.
“The job was physically demanding and I just did it to survive because the earnings I got were not even enough”. On average, when John and his friends sold the sand, John would make a mere 2,000 Kwacha. The price the group charged was based on the capacity of the vehicle they packed the sand in. John explained that to fill a 1 tone lorry, they charged 14,000 Kwacha and since the money was split between seven people, each person would leave with a meagre amount of money. The situation John was going through frustrated him and he said that he believed he had no future. The frustrations caused John to slowly begin living a careless life and resort to excessive alcohol consumption to shut off the problems.
John explained that this went on for 3 years and he completely lost hope that things would change for him. He was just a school dropout who was struggling to support himself and felt he had let his mother down.
In 2015, John bumped into a friend who informed him about our vocational training programme and how John had a chance to learn a professional technical vocational trade within six months. John wasted no time to register and that same year, he had enrolled for a carpentry course. Six months later, he had graduated as a skilled carpenter and that marked his journey to transformation. Using the small tools that he received after his training, John partnered with his uncle, a seasoned carpenter, and together they opened a carpentry shop strategically located at Dzaleka Trading centre. For the first time since dropping out of school, John was able to make his own money in a dignified way. He also earned the respect of his peers and his community since he was now a qualified carpenter.
John explained that all the financial miseries he faced seemed to have vanished overnight.
“I could now manage to support my mother, my sister and my brother without any problems. My brother was on the verge of dropping out of secondary school but I was able to put him back to school and afford his fees. I even stopped drinking and took control of my life”. Putting food on the table for his mother is no longer an issue. John said that his family can now eat three meals a day, which previously was impossible as they could go for a day or two without eating. John explained that the best part was that he can earn a minimum profit of 30,000 Kwacha a day when business is good. John’s carpentry workshop is a flourishing business and he has a loyal customer base.
John does not want to let the skills he obtained from our vocational training programme to die with him. His vision is to help his fellow youths become self-reliant just like he is by training them in carpentry for free. He is currently training a 15-year-old boy as an apprentice. Just like John, the teenager dropped out of primary school due to financial difficulties. The boy explained that he receives a certain amount of money for the products he makes and he uses the money to buy basic essentials for himself and his parents. He even plans to open his own workshop too.
When he recollects the journey that he passed through to get where he is, John is thankful for having found our vocational training programme. The training not only helped him achieve financial independence, but it also helped him recover from his careless behaviour and become a responsible young man.
“The training I got is priceless. The benefits I am reaping cannot be compared to any”. John observed.