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Family guy

Age is nothing but a number.

It is just a digit.

A figure.

It really is nothing and when it comes to getting a skill or putting that skill to good use, age matters less. Bulaiton Natison, an elderly man in his late 40s bears witness to this. Bulaiton lives in one of the poor villages of Dowa, a district known for its heavy reliance on subsistence farming with approximately 394,000 of the population living in extreme poverty. In fact, poverty is the state of life that Bulaiton grew up in. That is one of the reasons that prompted him to start hunting for means of overcoming that painful way of living. Bulaiton had some prior experience in carpentry – a skill that he informally learned from his uncle but the talent he had was rusty. He was not a fully qualified carpenter and the only thing he knew best was simply making doors.

Although Bulaiton was in his old age, he did not feel discouraged from going into class to sharpen his carpentry skills and become a certified carpenter. So, in 2016, Bulaiton found what he was desperately looking for when he joined the Carpentry intake of our vocational training programme. Fortunate for him, our vocational training programme has a wide age bracket – 18 to 40 – something we did to reach out to a diverse group of vulnerable people.

Graduating in the carpentry course was a giant leap for Bulaitoni because when he completed his training, Bulaiton got a loan from a micro-finance programme that we used to run and he used the money to buy essential carpentry equipment to set up a small shop at his home. His business immediately hit the ground running.

And the fruits started showing..

Bulaiton’s living standards began improving. The biggest thing that came out of the business was a house that he recently completed building. It is something that Bulaiton smiles when he talks about. He plans to roof the house with corrugated iron sheets – which is a notable improvement for his family considering that in most Malawian villages the majority live in grass-thatched huts. What Bulaiton got from our vocational training programme brought a ripple effect on his family. The income he gets from the same carpentry bench has let him put his two grandsons through secondary school. He ably paid for their school fees and school items from form one to form four. That is not the only thing he has done for the grandsons.

“For three years now, I have been teaching them carpentry,” he said, “You can see that I am growing old and death could come calling at any time. One day when I am gone, I want the boys to remember that their grandpa left them a priceless gift.” Bulaiton started training his grandsons when they were still in their early years at secondary school. One of the boys, Chisomo, who has just completed secondary school cannot hide his excitement about the remarkable things he has done courtesy of the informal training he got from Bulaiton.

Besides saving money to buy his own set of equipment and open his own business, Chisomo has invested some of the money he gets, into potato farming. Sustaining the small farm was not a problem either since he could ably buy essential farm inputs like herbicides and fertilizer to improve the yields. Chisomo expects to harvest not less than 20 bags from the small farm. His plan is to start saving for his college education. Even as he waits for college, Chisomo will not feel the pinch of the gap year that secondary school leavers experience as they await their examination results. As a matter of fact, while his counterparts have nothing to do during the gap year, Chisomo is already making an income from his grandfather’s carpentry bench.

The ripple effect does not end with Chisomo because even Zakeyu – Bulaiton’s son-in-law is his apprentice. Zakeyu, who is also Chisomo’s father, is gradually becoming a good carpenter and earning a little something to meet the day to day needs of his family. Unlike Bulaiton who had prior skills in carpentry, Zakeyu had no previous training in the profession and Bulaiton taught him everything from scratch.

Zakeyu and Chisomo are just two of the six people that Bulaiton has either hired or is training as apprentices in his shop. Bulaiton’s story is a tale of the generosity of a selfless person who desires to pass on his skills to family, friends and community.