During our visit to Zambia in September, we went to see a group of bricklayers in Samfya, a town in the North-Eastern province of Luapula, where over 80% of the population lives in poverty.
These bricklayers were learning their trade by building houses for local residents, a method often used by skills training groups. This helps them to learn a new skill and earn money at the same time. It also offers employment opportunities to skilled builders who transfer their skills to their students.
A large portion of Zambia’s urban population lives in poor housing compounds or townships called komboni, which form small communities within the towns. Whilst in the past, these would have been shanty towns filled with crude huts, they have now largely been replaced by the concrete block houses which you see all over Zambia.
The particular group that we visited was building a house in an area that had been designated as a brand new township. The area was mostly flat and empty, with only a few construction projects underway.
We spoke to Wesley, one of the students, who told us:
“I started learning bricklaying last year in July. I was doing nothing before I started bricklaying. I completed school, but my father died in a car accident, leaving my mother alone, so I couldn’t continue my education. I couldn’t find any work after leaving school, so I just did piecework.”
Piecework is one of the true indicators of household poverty in Zambia. It involves spending a whole day doing incredibly intensive work, usually receiving only enough money to buy food for that day. Those engaged in piecework hardly make enough to survive, and certainly don’t make enough to support a family and save money for the future.
“I have a wife and 2 children to look after, a son and a daughter. Without bricklaying, I wouldn’t be able to support them. Now, I am even able to pay for my son’s nursery fees. Next year, I will finish my training course, and then, I will start my own group and give other trainees the same chance that I was given.”
Wesley’s attitude reflects that of so many people that we meet. Despite the fact that they have so little, they want to share what they have with other people in their community. Wesley could simply start his own business, hire skilled builders, and make money for himself and his family, but he wants to share the training that he has received with other people, and give them the opportunity to transform their lives, just as his life has been transformed.
Could you support a trainee bricklayer just like Wesley? Just £45 would cover the costs of collecting, refurbishing, and packing one builder's kit, which will be used to train a vulnerable person and give them the skills that they need to be able to feed their family every day.