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There was a wood workshop in the vicinity of my house, initially cramped in a building whose construction was stalled. Owned and run by a young man, his employees have always been handy in helping me out. Unfortunately, the building resumed construction and they had to move elsewhere, leaving me missing their skills in woodwork and decoration. More importantly, I have come to admire even more their impressive ability to work together and handle customers.

In my childhood, while I was in Qes Timhirt Bet, I remember a similar encounter with a workshop. It was close to the school I went to, thus giving me the opportunity to frequent two illustrious entrepreneurs working without a shade around our house. The couturier Gash Ketema with his old sewing machine and its spinning wheel, and Gash Waqjira, the shoemaker, with his metal foot-model on which shoes are pincered, hammered and shaped. Together, they breathed life into worn-out clothes and shoes. The whole neighbourhood looked up to them.



As I did some errands, assisting them with some simple routines, I grasped some skills that endure to this day. My toys turned out to be, if not all, some of the tools used by the two of them.

As I went up the ladder in elementary school, during our break, one place I frequented was the male’s handicraft room. In those days, girls started at grade three in their own handicrafts room, while male students had to wait until the 5th grade. At most, I was there two or three times a week, where we took handicraft lessons in a room surrounded by grilled windows.





It was my most favourite place in the compound. Inside, one could find replicas of churches, mosques and houses, put together by students ages ago. Our grades were determined by what we made in our houses and brought for display. I once came with a handgun made with good proportions and beautifully carved from clay. To be delivered on the morrow, I felt it was appropriate to open the trigger guard. It broke into three pieces. With a hollow heart and a pained face, I took it to school. Our teacher gave the highest mark to me as what mattered to him was the effort.

In contrast to my neighbourhood days, while I worked and lived among foreign nationals many years back, irrespective of their professions, their handiwork had always been visible in and outside of the houses with clean and amazing green vibes. Hence, no matter how anecdotal and research-based it looked, the more we use our hands, the more our environment is changed for good. This is bested and endures more if it is started from school.


It is unfortunate that today’s schooling pays very little attention to vocational work. It is usually the case that vocational learning is limited to students of university level and they are educated in it to be ready for professional purposes. This should not be the case. Skilled crafts or technician work should not be looked down upon. They should be encouraged in children at an early age and should become part of elementary school curricula.

Scandinavian countries are a good example in this regard. Students have classes where they have to take lessons in skills not usually considered necessary to get a paying job in Ethiopia. This is an example that should be taken to encourage more crafts persons onto the scene, such as the ones that embellished our neighbourhood – and the cranky skeletal building they resided in – creating job opportunities and sustaining a modest but promising artisans industry.



PUBLISHED ON May 29,2021 [ VOL 22 , NO 1100]









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