Former porter masters key to become top Musanze fabricator

To become a blacksmith, Aimable Ndabateze, did not have to go through any kind of formal education, but rather, depended on his sharp eye, and his learn-at-any-cost attitude.
Ndabateze,  tests a key he has finished fabricating.  The New Times/Jean d’Amour Mbonyinshuti.
Ndabateze, tests a key he has finished fabricating. The New Times/Jean d’Amour Mbonyinshuti.

To become a blacksmith, Aimable Ndabateze, did not have to go through any kind of formal education, but rather, depended on his sharp eye, and his learn-at-any-cost attitude.

Ndabateze, a primary school dropout, is now a famous blacksmith in Musanze town. His niche is to duplicate keys, he says at his shop, space he shares with members of Abacuzi Kund’Umurimo cooperative. The Cooperative comprises 50 artisans.

The 35-year-old father of four recalls rather proudly of his long journey from a porter whose daily income could barely feed him sufficiently as a single man, to not only having enough to feed and provide basics to his family, but also saving up for the future, comfortably.

 “I carried people’s luggage in this town for five years from the time I was 15, immediately after I dropped out of school. Life then was very hard, that I could go home tired every night and earned so little, with too little to eat,” said Ndabateze.

Ndabateze says he drew his inspiration from some young artisans, who lived and worked closer to a shack he called home. But he took the decision to join them after hesitating for long, as he says, he saw it as a very sophisticated work for a primary five dropout.

Besides copying keys, he also makes charcoal stoves. But the former is more lucrative since he forges more pieces in a day while it takes about two days to fabricate the stove.

Ndabateze also subscribes to Duhaguruke Kora Inter-cooperative which brings together artisans from across Musanze District. It currently has 370 members.

Soldiering on 

Like Ndabateze, most members of Abacuzi Kund’umurimo did not go through any formal education setting, but acquired skills through hands-on training from colleagues.

 “Of course it was not easy at the beginning; I would go home with bruises on my fingers out of poor handling of the hammer that I contemplated quitting. But what kept me going is the meagre earning I got from carrying people’s luggage. I soldiered on until I started mastering the trade,” Ndabateze said.

“Today, I have created a name for myself that on average, I make at least Rwf10,000 everyday though there are days that I take home more,” he says.

Pay-day for him when people have lost their keys, or housemates in need of personal keys to the house.

“I work depending on the clientele and it is not everyday I have many clients, but now I have got an order for 70 keys which I will have finished in three days,” he said adding that from this deal, he expected to earn Rwf40,000 as profit after paying all operational costs.

Ndabateze is not the only person who benefitted from the cooperative.

John Sebasore, 41, another member, says he has been in this trade for 20 years. Once a blacksmith himself, Sebasore says he has left the trade to become a mechanic.

“I started working with my father in 1990s and I like being an artisan. It was easy for me to adapt because my father was a blacksmith.  Now, I can repair almost every home appliance, vehicles and motorcycles,” he says.

And the cooperative has also seen Jeanine Muhawenimana, a female member, beating the odds to become a successful motor engine mechanic.

All inclusive

“I joined this field two years ago. Before then I was unemployed, then I became a car-washer and that is when I started picking interest in car engines,” she says.

“The men here at the cooperative were good enough to train me.”

She now takes home atleast Rwf5,000 daily.

According to Leonard Munyarubibi, a legal representative of Duhaguruke Kora, the artisans have benefitted individually and collectively.

He said that they train former street children brought by various Non Governmental Organisations.

“We are seeking training opportunities from the Workforce Development Authority and other training institutions to help us be more creative and innovative. We also want to shift from traditional methods to modern ones, I think Rwandan artisans are more skilled and can easily do what we import from the West, ”  said Munyarubibi.

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