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Saved by the spirit level

When one is married and has a kid but has no means of earning a living, the social-economic welfare of his family figuratively dangles on a life support unit. Taking care of a wife and kid when one cannot even manage to buy a packet of sugar can be a daunting experience. In fact, it is impossible to put a kid through school when the parent cannot afford even to buy a bar of soap for laundry or bathing. However, that is exactly what George, a young man in his early twenties went through. George is married and he has a five-year-old kid. George lives in the remotest part of a village located deep in the outskirts of Dowa District, which lies approximately 50 kilometres from Lilongwe, the Capital of Malawi. He comes from a community where 46 percent of the people live in extreme poverty and a large number of young men and women drop out of school.

That is a similar situation that occurred to George. Although his father is a primary school teacher, putting George through primary and secondary school was a hassle. This caused George to face mishaps with his education right from primary school – a challenge which followed him to secondary school.

“It was not easy for my father to pay my school fees and support me with basic essentials needed at secondary school,” George said. George’s mother passed on five years ago and his father raised George as a single parent. The financial problems that George’s father faced forced George to drop out of school before he could sit for his crucial final secondary school national examinations. He said he had no option. That was in 2015. Frustrated at not being able to complete his secondary school and with no possible solution in sight, George went back home where he spent a lengthy period of time, jobless and idle.

“I stayed home for two years. Obviously, I could not attempt to look for a job because I did not have the qualifications that would convince an employer to hire me.” George explained. The problem was made worse since he resides in the village and in Malawi, it is impossible to get a job in the village.
It is during that lengthy stay that George married and had a kid. That is also when he realized that raising a family is no simple task. He suddenly found himself with a responsibility and financial needs that were hard to fulfil without a source of income. His wife too had no job which meant he solely looked up to him for just about everything. Then there was the kid who needed his support too.

“My father tried to help us in any way he could but there was a limit to how far he could assist us,” George said, adding that he knew that he was overstretching his father’s financial capacity and was becoming a burden to him. When things got to the extreme, George started looking for his own ways of earning money but soon realized that the pieces of work available in his community were undignified and paid lower than the average minimum wage. However, George just had to perform those undignified jobs to put food on the table.

“I worked everywhere as long as I got paid. Today I could work in a maize garden and tomorrow you could find me pushing a wheelbarrow to provide sand to builders at a construction site.” George recalled. The average daily income that George made from these jobs was a meagre six hundred Kwacha, which was insufficient to take care of his wife and kid. Moreover, his kid was growing up and very soon George would need to send him to school. George understood that if he could not find a permanent means of making money, things would start getting awry. He needed a solution and that needed to happen fast.

In 2018, George met a friend who had graduated in Carpentry from our vocational training programme and was running his own business. George was so moved by his friend’s story of transformation that he decided to give our vocational training programme a shot.

“This guy used to live near my home. He was just like me, struggling to make ends meet but when I saw how he was now changed and the amount of money he was making, I instantly knew that I had found the solution to my problem.” George recalled. That very same year, George applied for a bricklaying course in our vocational training programme and made it. It took just six months for George to complete his course but he obtained skills that would last forever.

George’s turning point began as soon as he finished his training. A week after completion of his course, he was employed by a construction company in the city, albeit on a temporary basis. His first job involved building a school block and he impressed his supervisors so much with his bricklaying skills that the company hired him as a permanent employee. George does not take this for granted.

“You know, I joined bricklaying without any prior knowledge in the field. I did not even know how to hold a spirit level but There is Hope vocational training school made me into a very skilled builder. This is why now I was able to get a permanent job at a big construction company.” George said. To someone who stayed in a village where he used to do degrading jobs, he had moved up the ladder by securing a professional job in the city and at a reputable company. He is no longer the same. George is now earning a salary that is enough to support not only his wife and kid but his grandmother too. He explained that he makes enough money to last him months, not just days.

“I earn five thousand Kwacha a day which is multiple times higher than the 600 Kwacha I used to earn per day.” George smiled and it is a smile that has trickled down to the welfare of his family. His kid just started school and he ably affords everything the child needs for his education. George disclosed that he wants to build a better foundation for his kid’s education and does not want the kid to suffer as he suffered at school. His grandmother, who is a small-time subsistence farmer is enjoying the fruits of her grandson’s skills. George explained that he recently hired labourers to help his grandmother in her garden and he has just bought fertilizer and other essential inputs for her crops.

“In a way, I am also an employer.” George chuckled, “who knew that one day I could manage to hire people to work in our garden? In the past, it was I who worked in other people’s gardens.” George cherishes the skills that he obtained courtesy of our vocational training programme. The knowledge he gained has empowered him to get a job, which is earning him good pay and a sense of self-worth. As he puts it, the skills are “a precious treasure that will be used forever”.

This project is financed by the European Union (EU).