By Chimwemwe Mphande:
Fortune favours the brave, holds an African proverb that aims at encouraging people to be vigilant and develop self-esteem.
Some youths do not consider such proverbs seriously since they do not want to endure hardships.
Ernest Kabichi of Limbalire Village in Traditional Authority Bwananyambi in Mangochi is one of the few courageous youths who believe in patience and paying attention to detail.
In 2004, Kabichi enrolled with Lilongwe Technical College to pursue a course in customs and shipping.
However, this was not his dream course.
“I didn’t like the course because I wanted some vocational skills to create jobs instead of being employed.
“I made the decision after seeing the struggle that many people go through after completing school,” he says.
Kabichi, 36, says he was forced to pursue the course by his uncle who was sponsoring him.
Few months into the course, the fifth born in a family of six, secretly arranged with the college management to switch courses opting for welding and fabrication.
“I went back to the drawing board and negotiated with tutors for a hands-on skills course so that I would not wander about hunting for jobs,” he says.
The switch to his dream course fired him up.
He worked hard towards realising his dream.
However, two years later, Kabichi met a stumbling block.
His uncle announced that he would no longer pay for his tuition fees.
He was subsequently withdrawn from the college.
“The day I was expelled will remain one of the painful days in my life. I could visualise my future crumbling. I prayed to God to lead me to success,” he says.
Later, Kabichi decided to look for any job as long as it earned him something for a living.
Coincidentally, his uncle had an American friend Lincoln Belly who was looking for a domestic servant and Kabichi was handy.
Although the employment was a relief to Kabichi, it turned out to be yet another litmus test.
He worked for four months without pay.
“On top of the salary, he told me that I would be receiving K30 per day for my transport.
“However, he wasn’t fulfilling the obligation in that, quite often, I walked from Area 23 to Area 9,” Kabichi says.
He could not ask his boss about his wages trusting that he would one day be paid the lump sum.
Later, Kabichi woke up to a rude awakening when Belly announced that he was leaving the country.
In bidding farewell, Kabichi thought Belly would give him his accumulated wages but to his surprise, he was given a pack containing a T-shirt and a cap.
“I was upset because the gift was not commensurate with four month’s work,” Kabichi says.
Nevertheless, he remained patient and narrated his experience to his friend Mphatso Mtika who encouraged him to have faith and accept the reality.
Kabichi was hesitant to wear the T-shirt until when Mtika’s girlfriend was admitted to Kamuzu Central Hospital.
Mtika asked Kabichi to escort him to the hospital which he accepted.
This was the turning point for Kabichi.
“All my clothes were dirty and because this was an emergency, I was left with no choice but to wear the T-shirt which Belly gave me,” he narrates.
Upon opening the pack, he found some US dollar banknotes and a letter neatly placed in a folded T-shirt.
In the letter, Kabichi says the boss thanked him for being patient and hard working.
Belly also advised him to invest the money into something productive.
“I rushed to Mtika to tell him about the United States dollars. We then rushed to the hospital and later went to the bank to convert the dollars into Malawian currency,” he says.
After converting the dollars, Kabichi was K1 million richer.
What seemed like a curse immediately turned into a blessing.
Kabichi could once again see his dream coming true.
He kept K800,000 in the bank and invested K200,000 into a grocery shop.
The investment, however, proved difficult to manage as all the proceeds from the business were used to support his livelihood.
“I also used some of the money to pay for my brother’s passport to South Africa,” he says.
Fortunately, on his return from South Africa, Enock brought along with him a grinder, welding machine and a compressor. The equipment offered hope to Kabichi that one day he would have his own shop.
Although Kabichi had theoretical knowledge of welding, he realised that he still needed practical experience.
So in 2007 he secured employment at a welding shop in Liwonde Township to gain the requisite experience.
Few years later, his employer left for South Africa and this became an opening for him to start his own business.
“Many people identified me with my employer; so, the moment my employer left, I maintained the shop and started investing in it,” he says.
In 2015, the industrious young man established Kabichi Skills Development Centre which offers training in welding and fabrication.
With its motto: ‘Providing skills for sustainable economic development for youths and future generations’, Kabichi expanded the business as well as youth development.
He started training the youth in welding and fabrication for free to help them become productive and self-reliant.
Due to limited resources, he could just train the youth without providing any start-up kits and certificates.
Luckily, Technical, Entrepreneurial and Vocational Education and Training Authority (Teveta) recognised Kabichi’s contribution towards youth empowerment.
Teveta partnered with Kabichi and was considered as a trainer for youth-related short courses.
He was also recognised by UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) and contractor Jan–Jaap Jacobus Sonke who gave him contracts for welding and fabrication works in DfID’s project implementation areas.
Even US Embassy noticed his efforts and encouraged him to apply for the Young African Leaders Initiative (Yali).
Kabichi obliged and was selected for six-week training at Oklahoma State University.
As a token of recognition, the US Embassy gave Kabichi a contract to provide desks at Michongwe Primary School in Machinga.
At Oklahoma, Kabichi studied business and entrepreneurship, youth empowerment through technical development and leadership skills.
He says he is the only child in his family to complete secondary education and proceed to university.
“I developed a wider network with Americans and I told them about poverty and youth unemployment in Malawi.
“In 2019, I was encouraged to write a project proposal to Africa Development Fund. The proposal was accepted and I was given K8 million grant to train youths in welding and fabrication and business entrepreneurship,” he explains.
In giving back to society, Kabichi repaired roofs of people’s houses and Shukurani and Chabwera primary schools in Machinga, which were blown off in 2015 by stormy winds.
Kabichi also worked jointly with Africa National Parks to construct two school shelters at Chinguni and Namisundu valued at K7 million, out of which Kabichi contributed K3 million.
Now married with two children, Kabichi trains girls considering their vulnerability and need to be given opportunities to become self-reliant.
After undergoing six-month training, the apprentices are given start-up equipment and awarded with Teveta certificates.
“It’s not how much one has but how much one contributes to society,” says Kabichi, who, since 2014, has trained 90 youths, of whom, 65 percent are girls.
Machinga District Commissioner Rosemary Nawasha hails Kabichi for his efforts and for complementing government’s efforts in empowering the youth, especially girls.
“If girls are not empowered, they can easily get into early marriage. We need, as much as possible, to engage them not to fall into that trap,” she says.
Legislator for Machinga Likwenu Bright Msaka commends Kabichi for sharing his skills with others.
“As a businessperson, Kabichi could have kept the skills to himself but he has selflessly imparted them to others, an example worthy emulating,” says Msaka, who is also Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs.
Country Programme Manager for US Africa Development Fund Linda Ndovie Jere says the US Government supported Kabichi after noticing his positive contribution to society he lives in.
Apart from teaching the youth welding, Kabichi also supports needy students in universities and secondary schools through the Kabichi Bursary Scheme.
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