The Carpenter: Building A Better Future

WHEN Victor embarked on his carpentry apprenticeship in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), he was realizing a childhood dream. Having steadily built up a business, he became a capable and honest carpenter of some renown. Systematic killings and rebel attacks were the order of the day, but Victor was reluctant to leave - scared that he would never own a carpentry shop as a refugee in a new land.

Eventually, in 2014, he was forced to flee, arriving in Malawi with his wife and five children. He had nothing to his name apart from his talent and skill. Starting with brickmaking, Victor spent his first six months at Dzaleka refugee camp patiently accumulating capital for start-up equipment--a hammer, a handsaw, a measuring tape and a square rod, with which he was able to start fulfilling his family’s basic needs. In the same year, Victor joined Kibébé as one of their self-employed artisans, and his flourishing business was born.

“With jobs from Kibébé I’ve been able to get a lot of tools that I didn’t expect to get - and replace broken ones,” he says. “I’ve even hired two people to work in my shop.” With increasing financial independence, he is able to send his children to better schools, a luxury that many others at the camp don’t get to enjoy. 

As meticulous with his bookkeeping as he is with his measuring, Victor takes careful records of the breakdown of his annual income -noting that a significant portion of his revenue comes from Kibébé. In addition to income, Victor credits Kibébé with expanding his skill set - teaching him to make wooden letters and coasters, new products that he wouldn’t have otherwise mastered. 

Victor has become Kibébé’s most skilled and trusted carpenter. However, diligence and craftsmanship are not the only two laudable characteristics that define him. Having established himself at the camp, he strives to give back to his community. Victor feels passionate about training the youth at the camp in carpentry - not least because it’s a life skill they can take with them wherever they go - but because he believes without a vocation they could easily “become thieves and alcoholics” with nothing to do in the camp. Victor offers a small apprenticeship scheme and has seen the boys flourish at Dzaleka and outside of Malawi. Victor talks about his dream to train more and more youth in the future with great energy.