As I sit here in Paul Ochieng’s office the workshop is a hive of activity and very, very noisy. The ear protectors that we bought are sat in the office beside me. Nelson, the husband of Emily our caretaker and also a carpenter, is using the planing machine to cut timber to the required width and then planing it smooth. Paluoc gets paid for this; Paul tells me it’s a bob a foot, that’s K1sh per foot (About 135 Kenyan shillings = £1).
Stephen and Kennedy, and another lad, David are working on the desk seats. Evans is keen to point out that David is a new lad and doesn’t come very often. His father has recently died, but Paul hopes that long term David will be a decent student. Bonaventure is hard at work making chairs...
Please click on this video link to get the full flavour of all that is happening...
I have just returned from visiting the Paluoc workshop in Kisumu. I am most impressed by the appearance of the building now… The outside has been painted once and Paul the manager wants another coat of paint put on it. The stair-well has been completed and there is under construction a small building to the left of the front doors, to house the planer.
The trees planted in 2013 by Wendy, Jonathan and myself are all doing well, as is Nigel's frangipani, but alas, Gill's mango seems to have been eaten by goats and not yet replaced!
Bonaventure and Evans passed the grade III trade exam in the spring, and are now working ‘upstairs’ furniture making, under supervision of Paul and Gabriel, (a carpenter friend of Paul's who has had an accident to his foot, and as Paul says, needed to do something, rather than just sit at home). He is also supervising the upstairs boys, unpaid. The boys upstairs will get paid some of the chair money. At the moment, all the boys at the workshop get a basic lunch of beans and a chapatti, which costs 50 K sh each. (NB 140 K sh = £1) From January, Bonaventure and Evans will have to pay for their own lunches, as they are earning a little, in a move towards independence.
After Christmas, the ‘upstairs’ boys will be asked to tender for making and fitting two doors for the upstairs rooms. They will get paid for making these, with deductions if the work is not good enough! Bonaventure is making eight mahogany dining chairs, which will sell for around 6,000 K sh each. The padded seats will be made and fitted elsewhere.
Four students have this month taken the Grade III trade exams in carpentry: Jared, Stephen, Kennedy, and David.
The booking fee for each student is 2,500 K sh, plus 900 K sh. per student for a 'centre' fee and cost of materials. They also have to provide a photo of themselves. The pass mark is 60%.
David didn't answer any of the theory questions; he didn't get past form 4 in primary school, so it may be that his reading skills are poor. His spoken English is very poor. Paul is fairly confident, though, that David will pass the exam.
Kennedy is probably the most committed and very disciplined of the students. He finished primary school, but didn't start secondary. He walks 5 miles to the workshop every morning, and is always punctual.
Stephen only did two years in primary school; his father was unknown and his mother has died, so he is an orphan. He couldn't find anywhere to stay once his mother died, until a woman offered him a place, and she turned out to be a prostitute! But he had the good sense to talk to Paul about it, and Paul has arranged for Stephen to lodge with Emily and Nelson; Paul pays them a little. The quality of his work is good.
The ‘downstairs’ boys are now working on making 80 primary school desks to be delivered before Christmas. I suggested that they urgently need ear defenders and some sort of face guard (not goggles – they get too sweaty).
At the moment, the planer has been used to plane a lot of wood the boys are about to turn into 80 school desks for a primary school order, which will bring in a little income to the workshop and the boys. Paul also sells wood shavings at 20 K sh per sack to chicken keepers.
It is now necessary for the workshop to have fire extinguishers. For the size of the building, they have to have five, at a cost of 9,000 K sh each.
In January, Paul has four or five new students lined up: Joseph, Peter, Dominic, and Jackline plus her baby! (Paul has provided a cot in the workshop for the baby!)
Paul has arranged for the Nyamasaria chief to come to visit the workshop so he can recommend it to new boys. There are plans (when the planer house is compete) for the walls to be painted a second coat outside and another image painted as free advertising. Paul is shortly taking all the students to a free ‘training day’ at Crown Paints, re varnishes and how best to use them.
When it comes to more items the workshop needs, the fire extinguishers (9,000 K sh each) will be a large purchase. They also need more overalls... I have suggested that maybe Lilian could make these as she is very near and her work is excellent. And another power drill would be useful. On my last day, Paul told me they need new/more bits for the router. I also think that some of the boys would benefit, if possible, from some extra lessons in basic arithmetic and English.
My overall impression is that the workshop is all coming together nicely; work is coming in, the boys are earning a little, as is Paul, who is doing a great job. It seems to be progressing to becoming self financing before too long.
Paluoc carpentry workshop is still at a very early stage of its development. Last year the first three trainees successfully completed their Grade 3 examinations. They are seeking work so that the trainees get real experience of what is required in addition to the instructional sessions. The exciting thing is to see them gradually making progress. At the outset the plan was to add on an additional storey as soon as it was clear that the workshop was up and running, and proving to be successful in obtaining recruits and equipping them with valuable work skills.
The first photo shows the completed upper storey. By local standards it is a very impressive structure, completed to high standards. This was always the aim of Paul Achola, the manager and chief instructor – he wants to train youngsters to produce a better than average standard of work. The second photo shows the view of the building from the main Kisumu to Nairobi road. It is well placed to be seen from the road; hopefully enhancing both recruitment of trainees and the pursuit of work.
The third photo shows another exciting development that is nearing fruition. A planing / finishing machine was bought to aid work in the workshop and also to potentially provide a source of income; planing wood for other carpenters. These machines create a huge amount of sawdust and using it indoors was not practical as it filled the rest of the workshop with dust. Moving the machine in and out when it needed to be used was investigated. It was a possible solution, and it is a method employed by other workshops in Kisumu. The potential problem is that the machine could be damaged, it would be hard work and during some seasons it would not be possible. The better solution, aided by some extra funding that was made available by some well-wishers, was to build a hard-standing area outside of the workshop. It had to be secure and it had to provide shelter from the sun, wind and rain. The third photo shows the foundations for this building which we hope will soon be completed. The planing machine will be located there.
The overall effect of looking at the buildings is “wow”. It is a very desirable place with which to be associated; it looks smart and modern. Just the sort of place that youngsters would like to attend to be trained, we hope.
Finally, the last photo shows Paluoc’s solution to another issue. We wanted to make sure that the locals all knew what was going on at the workshop. My suggestion was that a banner be produced to hang outside the building saying “Paluoc Carpentry Training Workshop” and contact details for potential recruits. Paul’s first thought was to paint the information on the side of the building as it had been before the extension. I did say that he was to do whatever he thought most appropriate. Subsequently he has come up with the brilliant idea of a brightly coloured mural, very much in keeping with local culture, showing the workshop as a very vibrant place. What a great job, and hopefully it too will help encourage recruitment and work generation.
It certainly makes Paluoc look like a very vibrant and worthwhile place!
Great attention has also been paid to ensuring that the workshop is secure and its valuable stock of tools and completed work is safe. They have recently purchased some new power tools to help the workshop and its training methods to continue moving forward. Watch this space!
One of the volunteers who helped to build the workshop is going to visit the workshop next month, at her own expense. We look forward to hearing her report.
Things are now progressing quite well at the workshop. There are currently 8 full-time trainees and the trustees are continuing to seek more in the longer term. They have had success with their examination entries and attendance has improved.
The extra floor that has been added to the workshop will enable work to be carried out literally on two levels. Closely supervised will be the newish trainees on the ground floor. They will be looking to master basic skills. On the upper floor will be the trainees who have already successfully completed level 3 Government exams in Carpentry and Joinery. The more experienced trainees will also, on occasions, help with the training of the inexperienced ones downstairs.
We would not expect trainees to produce much in the way of real, paid for work during their training but we are hoping to do just that at Paluoc. The trainees have always been able to carry out very basic tasks like sanding wood by hand but this is a very slow, arduous and not very productive occupation, though sometimes necessary. We are trying to introduce more in the way of power tools to increase skill levels, job satisfaction and productivity.
The workshop has been able, through financial assistance via Global Giving, and from Hands Around The World and others, to purchase some electric drills and routers. This adds kudos to the tasks to be undertaken and helps bring these unskilled trainees into the 21st century. It greatly increases the range of tasks that they can learn to undertake. However the most important issue is their understanding of the absolute necessity of using the tools properly and above all safely. This is one of the current priorities for the workshop.
There is quite a lot of competition for carpentry products both from other local carpenters and from Chinese mass produced imports. Paluoc is managing to obtain some real work tasks, eg making desks, repairing lockers etc for schools but the flow of such work is intermittent. On the one hand this means that the workshop can concentrate on its primary purpose; getting these trainees to develop their basic skills, but it is also a loss of potential income for the workshop and for the trainees. A small financial incentive is useful for these trainees who all come from very needy backgrounds. It’s also good for their self-esteem and in some cases helps to feed their wider family.
I have been looking with Paul Ochieng, our Centre Manager and chief instructor, at the possibility of a little diversification of their product range.
We are looking at the possibility of producing chairs inspired by local Luo design but aimed at tourists and locally wealthy parents and grandparents. The painted ones are the finished article and would have to be sold locally. The unpainted ones can be flat packed and fit into a tourist’s suitcase. I am going to visit Paluoc in January next year to explore this and any other ideas that Paul may come up with in the meantime. I have sent Paul my drawings for the chairs to ask him to assess how easily they can be made by the trainees, and then whether they could be sold at the local tourist market, or elsewhere.
To help finance itself and to continue to move on and learn new skills such projects are essential for Paluoc.
Thank you very much for your interest and continuing support!
The workshop has had its first successful trainees in the Government Grade 3 carpentry & Joinery Exam. The young men concerned are staying at the workshop to continue to practice and improve their skills, and also to learn important new skills like “How to price a job”.
The workshop now has 9 trainees and is gradually earning a good reputation in the local area. Sadly, even this can prove to be a potential pitfall. All of the trainees are living in difficult financial circumstances but when their carers, it could be an uncle, aunt grandparents or in some instances a single parent, see how busy the workshop is and how well-equipped they are becoming, they don’t believe that the trainees are not being paid! This can cause a lot of aggravation at home. It would be great if they could be paid but that is just not a realistic possibility. They do get a very small amount of money sometimes when they have planed wood using the planning/finishing machine, but this is infrequent, and in other respects they are not skilled enough to work on paid tasks, not yet anyway. The trainees do get money for lunch about 45c (30p) per day, otherwise they would have none. This money comes through Hand in Hand Sponsorship – we are always on the lookout for new sponsors!
The trainees have some smart new uniforms of which they are very proud. They have also got some new power tools – a router and a sanding machine. They are taught the basic hand tool tasks but there is a lot of kudos, and effort saved, by using powered tools. It also will allow them to extend the range and style of their work, and of course are very useful new skills. These are exciting developments coming soon, once they have been trained! They have been helped to purchase this new equipment by donations through GlobalGiving. Thank you for your support!
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