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Transforming individuals, changing communities

His carpentry shed stands opposite a football pitch, right in the heart of a village a few miles from the main road. It is small and roofed with some grass that is slowly turning grey due to a prolonged stay. A high bench made of rugged timber sits in the middle of the shed. From a distance, the place might seem abandoned and, to a certain extent, worthless but this small shabby carpentry shed is what is paying the bills for Maliko.

It is from this little shelter that Maliko is earning his daily income and from the same carpentry bench, he is managing to pay his rent and supporting three young men to earn money. To Maliko, this place is a diamond in the rough and when he talks about how life-changing the bench has been to his financial status, the young man is full of smiles.

Maliko is a 25-year-old living in a village located deep in the outskirts of Dowa district. He recently completed a carpentry course at our vocational training centre. Maliko is a proud carpenter not only because he is self-employed which is something that he has always been looking forward to, but also because he received quality training. But when he looks back at his past experience, Maliko’s journey to be self-dependent has had its own pack of difficulties.

In 1999, while he was just six years and still in primary school, Maliko lost both his parents. That was the beginning of his struggles with his education. Maliko’s uncle took over the responsibility of caring for the then little boy but the uncle barely managed to support him through school. Just like the majority of the people in the community Maliko comes from, his uncle heavily relied on subsistence farming to meet his family’s needs. Keeping Maliko in school became a huge burden to him and Maliko sometimes rarely attended classes. Everything became worse when Maliko made it to secondary school. He attended classes for only two terms, then was forced to drop out because his uncle just could not afford it. That was 10 years later.

“Since then, I never went back to school. I stayed home for eight years helping my uncle in his garden and doing side jobs to make a little extra money. It was not easy.” Maliko recalls. The side jobs that he referred to included working as an apprentice for builders and at times attempting to build houses. Since he was not skilled in that trade, people were unwilling to hire him and this, according to Maliko, frustrated him further. Realizing that he could not continue depending on small piece works which were unreliable at most times and could hardly give him the money he wanted, Maliko decided to try out other alternatives.

“I started looking for an opportunity to learn a skill either in carpentry or welding.” He explained, “Any skill in those two trades would have sufficed as long as it would let me get out of the situation I was in.” Nine years after his forced dropout of secondary school, Maliko’s enthusiasm to attain a qualification in a technical trade saw him registering for a Carpentry course at our vocational training centre. Six months later, he finished his training and obtained his much-desired qualification. When he returned home, he wasted no time but used the carpentry toolkit he had received during his graduation, bought additional equipment and set up a bench and that was the start of his small shop.

Today, the small bench has elevated his financial status, made him a name within the village he lives in and far. The beauty and durability of the products he makes have even attracted customers from the posh suburbs of Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, which is about 50 kilometres away from his village. Maliko considers this a privilege since it is rare for residents of high-class suburbs to hire someone from the outskirts of a rural community many miles away to make products they could use in their classy mansions.

“Look at me. I was a nobody, a school dropout with no hope but now wealthy people drive all the way to this small bench to hire my services.” He smiled. He explained that the highest amount of money that he has made so far from the little carpentry bench is around MWK250,000 in just one month. In a country where the minimum wage is MWK962 per day, it means Maliko is making almost triple the amount. What is more, Maliko now lives on his own and affords to pay his rent and put food on the table, a sign that he is fully dependent.

Maliko’s community is also benefiting from his skills. A few months ago, he was hired by a local neighbouring school to fix some broken desks and doors and make additional 25 desks and tables. Ironically, this is the same school that Maliko dropped out of several years ago due to financial difficulties. That is not all, Maliko took on three young men as his carpentry apprentices and he is helping them earn a living. He is training the young men for free, saying that he considers it as a social responsibility to his community.

“Considering that There is Hope provided this knowledge to me at no cost at all, I would like to give back to the community by teaching others for free too.” He said. One of the young men, Davie, admitted that the free training he is gaining from Maliko’s carpentry workshop has helped him  “put his life back on track”. Davie said he used to be a drunkard and had no clear vision in his life.

“I was a notorious drunk. Whenever I got money, I would spend it on alcohol.” Davie explained, adding that all that changed when he became an apprentice under Maliko. From the money that Maliko pays Davie as an apprentice, Davie managed to pay medical bills and transport costs for his mother when she recently got hospitalized.

“I would never have managed to do all this before Maliko took me as an apprentice.” He revealed.

Maliko dreams of expanding his carpentry shop by opening a big workshop that would use electric powered equipment and employ more than 10 people. He foresees a future where he would open branches in big cities across Malawi.

“My goal is to employ other people too because my passion is to see others become fully financially dependent.” He remarked. Maliko’s story is a tale of how our vocational training programme is not only bringing change to the students we train but trickles down to the community at large. It is the transformation that we have always envisioned and intend to replicate across vulnerable communities.

This project is funded by the European Union.