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Rags to skills

Every story that has a ‘happily ever after’ ending starts with a cliffhanger… or a shocking beginning. The story either kicks off with the hero trapped between the proverbial rock-and-a-hard-place or a related shocking scenario which he, of course, eventually overcomes. For Pemphero, a young man living in one of the poorest communities of Dowa District in Central Malawi, his story begins with almost a related situation, albeit slightly different.

Pemphero’s story kicks off with a rough start with his education, right from primary school. Understandably, the majority of the youths in the rural communities of Dowa encounter a similar fate but with Pemphero, things were worse because his parents had eight children and no job or income to put them through school. Pemphero’s father and mother are subsistence farmers but whatever they cultivated was just enough to feed the family – not for sale.

They could barely afford to pay school fees for their 6+ children.

Pemphero’s education was marred by erratic attendance of classes and frequent absenteeism. It was no surprise, therefore, when he dropped out of school before he even had the chance to step foot into secondary school. For more than a year, Pemphero found himself languishing at home, idle and hoping things would change. But without any education qualification that would have opened the doors of opportunities for him, that change he wished for was far from birth.

Pemphero knew this.

And he also knew that he needed to lend a helping hand to his parents to support their daily needs. However, living in the village has more downs than ups and one of them is the lack of employment. The only jobs that Pemphero found in the village were disparaging – he worked as a random farm hand, as a porter at the bus depot, or some other less attractive jobs. The jobs were hard but the pay was, unsurprisingly, low.

“It was tiring,” Pemphero recalls, “I remember I could work from the early hours of the morning to late evening and could only make less than MK3,000 (USD4).” This rough life for Pemphero continued for several months until a close friend told him about the possibility to turn his life around if he joined our skills training programme. Pemphero took heed of the advice and took on Carpentry in our Vocational Training Programme.

The rest, as the saying goes, is history.

It did not take long for Pemphero to start noticing the change that he had been hunting for. For starters, when he finished his half-year course, he partnered with a fellow Carpentry graduate, with whom he pooled some funds and opened a small woodwork business at the heart of Dzaleka trading center. The place is a busy hub where refugees and Malawians ply their trades and it was a strategic point for Pemphero and his partner.

Without long, the money started flowing in and this time, the earnings were not a lousy USD4. Pemphero and his partner were now able to make more than USD100 or more from the sale of a single product. The change trickled down to Pemphero’s household. It started with his small maize plot. At first, Pemphero cultivated maize without applying essential farming inputs like fertilizer which technically is the key to bumper harvests. His yields were always heavily affected and the best he used to harvest was a mere two bags of maize. Not this time. Last year, Pemphero ably bought two bags of fertilizer which he applied to his maize garden and the results were incredible. He managed to harvest 500KG of maize. Pemphero says that is the best thing that has come out of his carpentry business because …

“I am now food secure. I have enough food to last me for the next one and half years,” he beamed. Pemphero is also gaining other benefits from the business. His parents and siblings have not been forgotten because now, Pemphero supports them with household essentials like soap, sugar, clothes and others. His mother and father are proud of his qualifications too. Pemphero is like the white sheep of the family.

Pemphero’s wife and a month-old baby are now in safe hands, knowing fully well that the man of the house has a reliable base of income. What more could a family ask for?