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Conquering familiar barriers

BEYOND BORDERS —Phiri works on a bridge in Mozambique

By Gospel Mwalwanda:

PHIRI—I can create a hundred jobs

When Malawi is awash with dubious building contractors who are becoming millionaires overnight despite their shoddy work, builder Vincent Phiri believes in perfection and honesty.

Phiri is a young man who has demonstrated that if given skills and financial support, it is possible for the youth to be self-reliant and contribute to the country’s development.

“What else can I say other than thank government and above all, God, for giving me the chance to lead an independent life,” says the 36-year-old.

Phiri, who holds a Malawi School Certificate of Education, is a graduate of Milonga Community Technical College (CTC) in Thyolo District from where he obtained his Level 2 Intermediate Bricklaying Certificate.

The building skills he acquired from the college were all the father of three needed to live a relatively happy life, earning a modest income from the small building projects that come his way.

At a time the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is being bashed for the wrongs it allegedly committed while in power, at least one thing that the former governing party did right was the introduction of CTCs.

Since its introduction in 2015, the CTC programme has shaped lives of countless young men and women, enabling them to live on their own. Others have gone further to employ their jobless fellow youth.

The government is implementing the CTC programme through its regulatory body, the Technical Entrepreneurial and Vocational Education and Training (Tevet) Authority.

A community college is a training institution whose educational facilities are available to youth and other community members, including those who did not complete or never attended school.

The CTC Programme offers courses such as Bricklaying, Plumbing, Motorcycle Mechanics, Tailoring and Fashion Design, and Fabrication and Welding.

Carpentry and Joinery, Information and Communication Technology (ICT), Auto Mobile Mechanics and Electrical Installation and Electronics are some of the other courses that community colleges provide.

One of the programme’s objectives is to address the prevalence of unemployment among the youth who form the majority of the country’s population, now at 17 million plus.

Phiri, who hails from the village of Matope in the area of Traditional Authority Nkalo in Chiradzulu District, says he was a subsistence farmer before he went to Milonga CTC and lived from hand to mouth.

The soft-spoken builder says he has undertaken a number of construction projects involving houses and bridges from the time he graduated from the CTC in 2017.

Phiri is currently engaged in two housing projects—in Balaka where he is building three houses for a pastor and at Namisongole in Mulanje where he is constructing a CCAP Church building.

But it was while working as an apprentice at a church building project in Thyolo in 2016 that his workmanship caught the attention of a Portuguese national who lives in Mozambique.

The Portuguese national was driving to Mozambique from Limbe and as he was passing through Thyolo boma, he saw a sign post that pointed to a building project in the vicinity of the road.

He branched off to see the project which turned out to be a church for Thyolo CCAP. The design of its arches mesmerised the Portuguese national, prompting him to ask for the builder.

“The man was impressed by the work he saw and sent for me,” says Phiri, adding that when he saw him, he could not believe his eyes that he was the person behind everything he was seeing.

“He could hardly believe I was the one doing everything on the church project. The man then asked me if I would accept a job in Mozambique to assist him building bridges.”

Phiri says he took up the offer and went to Mozambique where he assisted to build three concrete bridges in Zambezia Province.

He says he is happy with his work and that as a self-employed person and thanks to his building skills, he has been saved from the hardship of going from office to office in search of employment.

“I would have been among the thousands of jobless youths who are wandering the country’s streets were it not for the community technical colleges,” he says.

Phiri says the sight of jobless young men and women often moves him to tears and that is why he wants to help the new government in addressing the country’s unemployment problem.

To demonstrate that he is serious about his intention to assist in alleviating the suffering of the jobless, he allows graduates and apprentices of both sexes from community colleges to work with him.

“I want to have a fully registered company and employ my former school mates as most of them are just staying in villages. I also want to offer attachments to students from technical colleges,” Phiri says.

One of the pledges that wooed voters to the Tonse Alliance during the campaign for the June 23 presidential poll was the creation of one million jobs if it took over the reins of power.

Phiri says the task of creating jobs should not be left to the government alone, adding that he can help to bring to fruition that pledge to create a million jobs.

His small company—Wonder Building Contractors—is not fully registered and still in its infancy, yet it currently employs a total of 27 people at the two building projects in Balaka and Mulanje districts.

But Phiri, who has built a house for his family around Mulanje boma and also owns two houses that he rents outs, says he can employ more people if empowered financially.

“I can create a hundred jobs, but I need financial support to achieve this,” challenges the youthful contractor, known for his good workmanship and honesty that are winning him construction jobs.

“The work of my hands speaks for me. I hope the new government will listen and do something.”

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