Xolani Masoka is an inspiring success story – from streetkid to up-and-coming entrepreneur. At the age of 15 he ran away from his home in Gweru and made his way to the streets of Bulawayo. His mother had passed away and he didn’t get on well with his new step-mother. Although he was educated at Njube High School up to Form 4 he couldn’t afford the fees to sit for his O-level exams. He was hoping to go to South Africa to look for work as many of his friends had done, but he was unable to afford the cost of the visa.
Eventually, after living on the streets in Bulawayo, in 2008 he made his way, alone and with no job and no money, to Harare looking for a better life. He ended up sleeping on the streets and in the sanitary lanes, mostly around Fife Avenue Shopping Centre.
Like many other streetkids he barely managed to survive, struggling to make two or three dollars a day to buy enough food for himself. On a good day he got ‘piece jobs’ in the Avenues doing things like washing cars, cleaning and gardening. He says that he was shunned by the general public who accused him of being a thief or a trouble-maker and he was often beaten by the police – the very people who should have been helping and protecting him. Fortunately he’s healthy and resilient and didn’t ever need medical treatment. He describes himself at this time as feeling ‘empty.’
Eventually he found his way to The House of Smiles on the corner 6th Street and Livingstone Avenue in the CBD, a social project run by CESVI, an Italian NGO. Here he could get a cooked meal for lunch, facilities for washing himself and his clothes, counselling and educational projects.
The House of Smiles set up a training programme in conjunction with Christopher Nymauwa to teach the children the skills needed to make lamps and lampshades. The programme lasted for nearly a year with lessons every morning from 8am to noon. Of the 15 kids initially involved in the training programme only three of them had the patience and the perseverance to see the course through to the end. They learned welding, braising, soldering, how to make the wire frames for the lampshades, as well as how to cover the frames with fabric and fit the bulb holders and cables, switches and plugs. Initially CESVI supplied the welding machine, grinder, drill and sewing machine, as well as all the materials necessary and allocated a small space to them to use as a workshop.
Now Xolani and his two friends Taurai and Tonderai have their own small business that they run. It’s doing well. They sell their lamps and shades at the flea market at Sam Levy’s Village on Sundays and they also sell on the streets, at the robots in the suburbs, during the week. At Sam Levy’s they can make between $60 and $100 a day. Most of the money goes back into the business to buy materials to make more lamps.
The three of them can now afford to pay rent of $60 a month for their own home which they share in Stopover in Epworth and they’re largely self-sufficient. They have a cell phone for the business so that they can take orders and call their customers when their orders are ready. They also hope to grow their business and to become teachers themselves, sharing their skills with other children at The House of Smiles.
Apart from gaining some valuable skills which enable them to support themselves, they’ve also learned some very important life lessons – mainly that patience, perseverance and hard work pays off. Xolani has learned that there is a brighter future and he dreams of getting married some day and raising a family and teaching his children and grandchildren the skills to make a living.
If you would like place an order for a lamp or want to find out more, call Xolani on 0782 026 894.