J. E. Okello among COVID-19 inspired innovators

The COVID-19 pandemic induced lock-downs during 2019 to 2021 reminded us of the importance of artisanal livelihoods. I am among those who chose to innovate and to learn an artisanal skill during the lock-downs. I, a university graduate, humbled myself and sought an apprenticeship with a well-established welder in a rural trading centre.

On learning that I was a university graduate, the welder, who himself had dropped out of formal education at ordinary level senior secondary schooling, hesitated and questioned: “I am only a Senior Four dropout, how will I manage to teach you since you are of high education level than me?”

I assured him: “you are my teacher, and at the same time you are my boss, and also my trainer, and I am your student.”  My humbleness and willingness to learn won my mentor over and my apprenticeship begun immediately with my mentor giving him practical work to do.

As I learned, I also straight away started earning money. In addition to learning practical artisanal skills, I learned how within only two years of doing his welding business, my mentor had generated sufficient income that had enabled him to invest in buying a plot of land and to build a modest permanent tin-roofed house.

I successfully completed my welding mentorship and got great advice from my mentor on the feasibility of establishing a viable welding business and through which I too could pass on the knowledge and skills.  Without significant capital investment, it is not easy to open up a welding business. Starting a welding business requires sums of money that many youths in Uganda can’t afford.

But it is a worthwhile investment. There are multiple streams of income in a welding enterprise. For example, when a welder is working on windows or doors for selling, they can as well get money from sharpening an axe, knives, handheld hoes, welding motor bikes, among others. And when they sell a finished door or window, they have an assured profit.

Remember how millions of Ugandans whose livelihoods depended on salaried jobs couldn’t sustain living in urban centres. There was a large influx into rural communities of newly jobless salaried workers; together with children and youth of schooling-going age who were forced to stay home. Without reliable government relief aid, many Ugandans, were unable to adequately meet the basic needs – food, water, clothing, shelter of their respective households.

It is those with other life skills, such as artisanal skills – welders, tailors, builders, and hair dressers, who were able to continue earning a living doing their businesses close to home. Artisanal livelihoods, indeed, enabled many to provide members of their households with their basic and genuine needs. Many previous “white-collar” salaried workers found themselves with a choice to make – starve or innovate.

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This testimony was shared by Jimmy Ezra Okello, a beneficiary of our CPAR Uganda programme, “Mentoring Young Adults into Innovators against Poverty.” And the Project Team Leader for our proposed artisanal project soon to be established in our facility that is located on Y. K. Museveni Road in Pader Town Council, Pader District.

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