26-year-old Jean Dushimirimana is single, lives alone and currently works as a self-employed carpenter, a journey he fought for.
“I can’t remember exactly when I dropped out of high school as so much time has passed, but I am certain that at that time, my parents could not afford fees and I did not want to remain idle, with nothing to do. I formed an interest in carpentry as there were many workshops in my neighbourhood, but I regrettably couldn’t find someone to teach me the skill for free. I hang around the workshops, trying to pick up a few tricks, but this was not an effective plan.”
Jean wasn’t so lucky during his first attempt at pursuing this line of work. “I put the idea of becoming a carpenter aside and instead pursued something within my reach. I began assisting farmers in my village; cultivating their land for a small fee. One day, my friend informed me of fully catered for training sessions that were about to begin and advised me to apply.”
This was how Jean was introduced to the Swisscontact project; Promoting Market-Oriented Skills Training (PROMOST) in the Great Lakes Region.
From the time he was young, Jean was sure he wanted to work in an industry that connected him to people; somewhere he could meet new people. Carpentry gave him that platform and opened a plethora of creativity for him.
“In 2017, I was accepted as an apprentice for a year of training with a craftsman I admired. Apart from the discouraging long distance to and from the workshop, which got hectic when it rained, I vowed that nothing would get in my way, nothing would deter me from getting the most out of this opportunity. However, a few months into the training, my fellow apprentice and I noticed a worrying trend. Our trainer lacked the materials to teach us and sometimes did not hand over the lunch money that had been allocated to us by the project. We were scared to confront him. We decided to make lemonade out of the lemons we had been handed. We walked through the neighbouring workshops and observed the work the other carpenters were doing. With time, they began trusting us and gave us small responsibilities. It was a win-win situation because, for them, they were getting their job done faster, and for us, we were practising and perfecting our skill.”
“At first,” Jean reveals, “I had difficulty learning how to estimate the material for use. I realised I had a lot of wastage, but with time, I was able to improve on this. I eventually learnt to make diverse furniture like chairs, sofas, tables, cupboards, and how to do roofing. Swisscontact held an entrepreneurship training which helped me change my mindset about earning a living. I realised that I wanted to run my own business so that I’m in control of all variables. The training taught me how to improve my cost estimations and how to compete for tenders.”
While working for the other carpenters on a need-be basis, Jean was compensated for his efforts. He would save his money; approximately CHF 3 a week, with a mavuno savings group and use the rest to buy equipment for his soon-to-be workshop. Jean started small; purchasing a hammer, nails and screwdrivers which he would store at home. Once his year of learning was over, Jean continued to work for the other carpenters and began planning around opening his venture.
“Because of the high capital required to start and run the workshop, I decided to join forces with one of my skilled friends. Together, we opened our business.” Unfortunately, for Jean, this would prove to be a false start. “When we began working together, I started noticing certain details about my colleague that I was uncomfortable with. He was inconsistent, and I didn’t trust his cost estimations. Somehow it felt like he was always lying to me. After introspection, I realised that was not the path I wanted to follow and decided to part ways with him and strike out on my own.”