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From the mud hut to a palace

For an individual living in the remotest part of Dowa district and struggling to keep his family going financially, Kondwani never thought he would be able to be ‘his own boss’. The idea that one day he would manage to earn more than 100 thousand Kwacha and live in a decent house never occurred to him and, to a certain extent, it sounded ridiculous. Kondwani’s old life revolved around working in maize farms as a labourer and sometimes acting as a middleman by connecting buyers to tobacco farmers. These jobs were too involving and barely made him enough to cater for most of his basic needs. Kondwani had no alternative because these were the only readily available employment opportunities that he was able to find, which is not surprising since the majority of the community that he hails from largely rely on farming. 20-year-old Kondwani lives deep down in a village where farming employs about 90 percent of the informal workforce.

So, to survive Kondwani moved around the village, toiling in gardens and farms and helping clients from the city buy tobacco from village farmers. This went on for six years after he completed secondary school. It was a hard life but it was all he could do.

“The pay was low but the jobs were very difficult,” Kondwani admits, saying that most often he was never paid his wages on time which affected his financial status. Since the money he earned from the small-time jobs was meagre, sometimes Kondwani had to work multiple jobs to make at least a slightly higher earning, which was tough. At that time, the little he made kept him going for a while but everything changed in 2013 when Kondwani married and had a kid. He realized that he could no longer rely on irregular jobs. He was now head of a family with a wife and kid looking up to him for support. His new family brought with it a new, and heavy, responsibility and he either had to increase the number of odd jobs he did to make even more money or switch to a different stable job that could earn him a decent pay.

“I knew that time had come for me to find a permanent source of income. I had to find a job that could give me enough money to take care of my family’s welfare,” Kondwani explained.

However, the difficult question was how to source that permanent source of income. The problem was that Kondwani possessed a secondary school certificate and in Malawi this is a low-end qualification which can hardly enable one to get decent employment. His other option was to launch a business but that was out of the question because Kondwani lacked the financial muscle to establish even the smallest form of business. Besides that, he comes from a rural setting where poverty levels are extremely high and bars people from venturing into businesses.

“…and there was nowhere I could go to obtain a loan. I did not have any surety I could use to secure a loan and that was enough reason to keep me away from approaching institutions that provide loans.” he disclosed. Without financial capability to start a business, a qualification that could not guarantee a well-paying job, a family that was in desperate need of his support and no possible solution in sight, Kondwani’s fate was hanging in limbo.

In 2016 Kondwani’s unhappy events took an unexpected U-turn.

“One day, while walking to the market, I saw an advert announcing an opportunity to register for various vocational training courses at There is Hope.” he said “This was my answer. This was what I had been looking for.” Kondwani registered for carpentry and a month later, he found himself among the 19 students of the first intake of the carpentry class of 2016. There was a good reason he felt motivated to join carpentry…

“I saw a need in my village. You cannot believe it if I tell you that there was only one carpenter in a community that has more than four thousand people. Obviously, one guy could not manage to serve the growing demand of the community and this caused lots of people to travel far in search of other carpenters.” Kondwani’s desire was to fill the yawning gap while at the same time providing quality carpentry services to his community. Most importantly, he explained, it was his gateway to escaping the life of ‘irregular jobs with miserable pay’ that he had been stuck in for close to a decade.

“It was also a stepping stone to establishing my own business which was what I was definitely looking for.” The transformation that Kondwani was looking forward to gradually started showing up when he finished his 6-month carpentry course in August 2016. Upon graduation and powered by the carpentry tools he received, he put up a simple carpentry shed at his home and began making carpentry items.

When word started floating around that there was a new and qualified carpenter in town who was making quality products, it did not take long for Kondwani to attract a good number of customers.

Then the money started flowing in.

“I started getting big orders for doors, beds, dining sets, chairs and so on. For the first time since completing my secondary school, I could make a lot of money very easily and right at home.” Kondwani said, adding that for the first time he was able to earn 50 thousand Kwacha – ten times the money he made when he used to work odd jobs where he received just a little over four thousand Kwacha.

When business is good, Kondwani can earn up to 100 thousand Kwacha in a single month.

The profits he got from his little carpentry business was sufficient enough to enable him to save part of it to build a new house. His old house was a sorry sight, thatched in grass, with tiny windows and plastered with mud.

“You would feel sorry for me if you saw the house that I was once living in.” Kondwani explained “it had no cement floor, it had a tiny one bedroom and the interior was dark because there were two small openings we used as windows.” When it rained, the house leaked profusely and he had to use buckets and pails to hold the water seeping from the roof. As a married man, Kondwani revealed, the house was humiliating and his priority all along had been to move to a decent house.

From the money he saved from his carpentry workshop, Kondwani has since built a good house with two large bedrooms and roofed in brand new iron sheets. It is one of the few decent houses in his neighbourhood. He has even furnished the house with a couch and a nice piece of dining set that he personally made. Furthermore, Kondwani’s 3-year-old kid now attends a private nursery school, courtesy of the carpentry business.

Kondwani does not want his dream to end with a small carpentry shed in his community. He plans to grow the business and employ people to make products. He foresees himself operating a high-end carpentry workshop with lots of artisans.

“I will simply be designing the items and the people I employ will be turning the designs into products.” he declares.

Kondwani’s life has slowly changed. He no longer has to run around, sweating and hunting for undignified petty jobs in maize farms. In the past, he was a regular farm labourer but he is now a respectable carpenter with a reputable way of earning a living.

In January 2018, Kondwani upgraded his skills by enrolling for Carpentry Level 2 in our vocational training programme. He graduated in December of that year and he is now experienced in using advanced electric carpentry machinery. Level 2 Carpentry is one of the courses we introduced courtesy of funding we received from the European Union (EU). Our vocational training programme is now financed by the EU under a 2-year project called ‘Capacity building of vulnerable young adults in Dowa District through vocational training’.