In 2005 financial constraints could not allow 21 year old Ernest Kabichi to complete his two year Welding and Machinery course at Lilongwe Technical College.
Looking at the situation, Kabichi dropped out midway during the course to hunt for a job.
“While hunting for a job I had a chance to meet a friend who was a contractor and that time he was constructing a fence along with a white man called Licon Bally, a shareholder at Nico Insurance Company,” explains Kabichi.
He adds; “His friend had employed him as a supervisor among his workers and meanwhile, Bally asked me to become a house hold chores worker at his home an offer I could not refuse considering my then financial status.”
After working at Bally’s home for almost three months without pay as a household worker which included gardening Kabichi decided to resign.
“Upon submitting my resignation, he told me to meet him the following day and when we met he gave me a T-shirt written Stanbic, a hat wrapped in a paper and K150 for my transport from his residence in Area 9 to Area 23 where I was staying,” Kabichi further narrates.
He was not happy with what he had received as payment for his three months work. The items and the money was by far not what he deserved to receive as wages.
One day Kabichis’ friend fell sick and was supposed to be escorted by him to the hospital. Unfortunately all the clothes he had were dirty and had no option apart from putting on the T-shirt given by his former employer.
“When I opened the plastic paper, I found an envelope wrapped with a T-shirt and inside it there was US$4, 000, equivalent to K540, 000 and with this huge sum of money a dream came to buy materials and launch my own welding business.
“I gave some money to my brother to buy me a compressor, welding machine and a grinder from South Africa, because he used to go there as a business man. I also gave some money to my uncle and invested the remaining in a grocery shop,” the entrepreneur discloses.
He started running his business in Lilongwe while simultaneously equipping himself with marketing knowledge and skills through reading entrepreneurship books.
Kabichi who comes from Chisopi Village, Traditional Authority Bwana Nyambi in Machinga district and a dropout from the Technical College, in 2017 became a contractor in welding and fabrication boasting of multi-million Kwacha contract deals.
In what he describes as God’s grace, a sample of his works caught an eye of Jan-Jaap Jakobus Sonke, a Blantyre based project supervisor who was then supervising the construction of two secondary schools at Namwera under Cowbell Company.
“Sonke invited me to his house in Chirimba and gave me drawings of doors and metal window frames to translate into action and upon being impressed with my end product, signed me up for a contract worth K997, 000,” explains Kabichi.
Kabichi, whose impressive work kept attracting many contractors, attributes his success to hard work and good entrepreneurship skills.
Amongst those impressed with his work is America’s ambassador to Malawi, Virginia Palmer who is currently in joint efforts to source funds to expand his Company and enhance his activities.
“In 2016 some of the houses and two primary schools were destroyed by heavy storms in Machinga and I voluntarily helped the 8 affected households and those two schools, spending over K400, 000.
“This made me popular because those I had assisted wrote letters of appreciation through the District Commissioner,” explains Kabichi, adding; “When the American Ambassador had a stop over at the DC’s office she saw the pictures of the houses I had maintained and she was amazed. She requested me to meet her after which she asked me to make 30 desks which she wanted to donate to a certain school in Machinga.”
Palmer had later visited his shop where she had found both permanent employees and interns.
The American Ambassador advised Kabichi to write a proposal so that he would source money to give those who had completed their attachments to start their own businesses.
“I wrote the proposal and sent to the American Embassy, but was put on hold because it had collided with their Presidential election process,” explains the welding entrepreneur.
He says the American Government had meanwhile, signed him up for another K288 million project of making 9, 000 desks which were being done in phases.
“The American Government has so far given him 14.5million for the first phase and with that amount he has started buying materials for the desks. For two months a team of people from America was sent to inspect my cash flow and my bank account transactions,” said Kabichi.
As one way of giving back to the community, the founder and owner of Fast Metal Welders Company, is paying school fees for some students at the Polytechnic, Mzuzu Technical College and Machinga Teachers Training College.
He has also opened a skills training school in welding and fabrication for the benefit of the youth in his community
“I have, so far, trained 36 youths; 12 girls and 24 boys and most of them are doing well,” he explains and challenges youth acquire skills to seriously engage in entrepreneurship.
Kabichi explains that Malawi as a country could easily address level of unemployment among the youth by intensifying awareness campaigns on technical skills and entrepreneurship.
He states that with enough investment in technical colleges, skilled labour and entrepreneurship, poverty and under development could be history.
Kabichi, who dreams of becoming a private owner of a technical college has currently 9 permanent workers and 7 trainees. His ambitions are to win contracts at the international market. (By Gladys Kamakanda, Lilongwe April 19, 2017, Mana)