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Friday, April 19, 2024

Chinenye Oluchi Jane: The fascinating story of a Female Carpenter

A graduate of English, she abandoned her teaching job to become a Carpenter.

And she is doing great!

Read the fascinating story of CHINENYE OLUCHI- JANE

Thirty years ago, the family of Mr and Mrs Ndushirinwa of Etche in Nigeria’s oil rich Rivers State welcomed a set of twins. Although the babies arrived at a time when the couple was struggling to make ends meet, they accepted the twin girls with joy and named them Oluchi (handiwork of God) and Chinwendu (God is the owner of life).

Oluchi’s dad was a civil servant and a very multi-skilled man. Even though he never enrolled to learn a skill, he knew how to fix practically everything. He was a carpenter, mechanic, plumber, mason, tiler, electrician, all rolled into one. He was also a farmer and a kind-hearted father whose untimely death left a vacuum in the hearts of his children.

Oluchi’s mother is a godly woman who raised her children to have a fear of God. She was also a disciplinarian. Her mom taught her to be strong, hardworking, and independent. Her love for education made her ensure that her children gave their best at it.

Both of my parents loved education, and that is why they did all they could to train seven children at the university. You should know that it wasn’t easy. I could remember the day my dad cried because he didn’t have money to pay my twin sister’s final year fees. When we were still in school, my mom would borrow to give us money for upkeep. She would borrow to pay our school fees, and house rent. She made a lot of sacrifices for us. 

While she was teaching in a government-owned school, she was also doing different petty trades. There was a time when she was running a restaurant business. She would wake up very early in the morning to cook the food and prepare everything, and by 7:30 am she would go to school. At that time, my twin sister and I had just written WAEC and were staying at home. So we were the ones selling the food. I can’t mention all the different businesses my mother did to support the family. If she was relying only on her salary as a teacher, things would have been very hard. “

As a child, Oluchi hawked different items on the street to support the family. She said that such experiences helped her to build a sense of management and involvement in the family. Although she grew up in a neighbourhood that was well known for crime, she wasn’t influenced negatively by her surroundings. She stood by the principles instilled by her parents, which are still beneficial to her.

Oluchi attended Sacred Heart State School, Port Harcourt, where she got her first school living certificate. She completed her secondary education at Oromineke Secondary School, Port Harcourt. Life in secondary school was fun for her because she and her twin sister went to school together. At school, they were known for fighting with other students. They would join hands together to beat up whoever offended them and, because of such behaviour, their parents withdrew her twin sister and enrolled her in a different school. For higher education, Oluchi attended Niger Delta University, Wilberforce Island, Amassoma, where she studied English Language and Literary Studies. 

Oluchi’s passion for furniture-making started when she was a child. She used to assist her dad whenever he was doing carpentry work. 

“The truth is that I am gifted with talents just like my dad. After secondary school, I discovered that I have an interest in creating beautiful things. While assisting my dad, I learnt basic carpentry skills. However, after graduating from the university, I told him that I wanted to learn furniture making properly and become an expert. I still remember how he gazed at me and said, “I see that you don’t have any plans to get married.”

“I was 26 years old then, and getting married was his priority for me, while mine was pursuing my dream of becoming a female furniture maker. “

Although Oluchi’s dad didn’t give his full consent, she refused to give up on her dreams, and when the time was right, she went for it. Oluchi was fortunate to marry a man who supported her dreams. Three years after her marriage, she told her husband that she was ready to start the training. He accepted and asked her to look for a trainer.

“I met a furniture man whose shop was close to where I lived. When I told him that I wanted to learn carpentry, he was shocked. However, when he saw my desire and passion, he accepted to teach me, but not without my husband’s consent. The following week, my husband and I met him, and we discussed the price to pay for the training. After everything was settled, I started the training”.

“It was not easy because I was also working as a teacher. I went to teach from 8 am–3 pm and went to learn carpentry from 3:30–6 pm. I did that for months until I had to quit the teaching job to concentrate on my carpentry work.”

After I completed my training, I started making furniture in front of my house. I didn’t have money to rent a shop, so I was working from home. I got a few jobs and earned some money too. However, today, I’m a shop owner.”

Every business owner experiences challenges and they come in different forms. The major challenge Oluchi encounters is that most people prefer to give their jobs to male carpenters because they feel that a man can do it better. Due to that perception, she wasn’t getting work regularly, and that discouraged her greatly. So she started wondering if she made the right choice. 

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“Finance was another big challenge because, as a woman, I needed more machines than physical labour (manpower). The machines are very expensive, and I didn’t have the money to purchase them. At a point, I tried to get funds from NGOs, but that didn’t work because no one was ready to help. I even met individuals, but no one accepted to invest in my business because they felt that as a woman, I shouldn’t be making furniture. Others felt I would fail in this business. However, I continued to pray for provision, and guess what? God raised the funds for me through my one and only supportive husband. So, I was able to purchase the machines and I also rented a shop.”

As a mother of two young children, combining work with family responsibilities hasn’t been easy for her. Most of the time, while Mrs Oluchi is working, her children tend to distract her with their noises, fights, and cries. They play with her tools and misplace them. To reduce the workload, her husband assists her both in the office and at home. 

“Another challenge I’m dealing with is the debts owed by customers. If you don’t have patience, some customers will frustrate you. There are times I will use my money to produce a customer’s furniture, and they will like the work. Instead of paying for the item, they will beg me to give it to them and promise to pay later. Since I’m good-hearted, I will give it to them, and guess what? Sometimes, those customers will refuse to pay the money. I will call and call, but that’s how they will keep postponing the payment. They do that because I am a Christian woman and they know I can’t do anything to them. At this age, I won’t fight over money. However, I believe karma will catch up with all my debtors someday.”

Oluchi once got a job from a customer in Italy. He wanted her to fix foreign doors and keys in his new building. At first, the customer thought her husband was the furniture maker, but when he found out that she was the one to do the job, he was scared. He felt that she might not do it properly because she is a woman. However, after the job was completed, he was thoroughly impressed.

“The most memorable incident in my career was the day I received a call from a customer in Germany. He said he got my number through someone and that he wanted to speak with the carpenter. He assumed it was a male carpenter, but I told him that the phone number he called belonged to me, and I’m a female carpenter. He was surprised and told me that his wife would speak with me. 

A few minutes later, the wife called and said that she wanted to make a set of chairs. We discussed the price. Some days later, she said she was sending someone to bring money to me for the job. She opened up and said that she gave me the job because, after reviewing my work quotation; she saw truthfulness in me. I was so happy to hear that.

A few days later, she sent her sister, who stays in Enugu, to bring the money. When her sister arrived at our compound’s gate, she refused to enter. Why? She said she expected me to take her to my shop. At that time, I was still working from home. I tried to convince her, but she refused. It took a while before she finally agreed to enter the gate. 

When she got in, she saw some furniture I had made, but she was still doubting whether I could do her sister’s job perfectly. She looked down on me because I am a woman and told me she would return the money to her sister and ask her to look for another carpenter. I didn’t argue with her. I just told her that I could do the job perfectly. Finally, she gave me the money and strictly warned me that if I spoilt the job, I would be arrested. Well, I just looked at her and smiled. 

Did you know that when the sofas were ready and she came to check them, all she screamed that day was “wow wow wow wow”?  She called her sister, the one in Germany, and told her that the job was done excellently and guess what? They gave me three more contracts. And like I said earlier, that particular contract is the best job I have ever had. I couldn’t believe that even while I was working at home, I could get such a great job.”

Mrs Oluchi’s other goal is to organize free skills acquisition training for women and young girls. She hopes to start it as soon as she moves to a shop with a larger space.  

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“There was a day a young girl met me and told me she loved my work and would like to learn. She was always disturbing me about it, so I asked her to concentrate on reading for her WAEC and JAMB examinations. I told her to come after her exams and I would teach her for free because I saw her passion. She was so happy when I also offered to pay for her transport fare and give her lunch.

Do you know that after she wrote her exams, I was expecting her to resume the training, but she didn’t come? Then one day, she visited me, and with the look on her face, I knew she was unhappy. I asked her what the problem was, and she said her parents didn’t allow her to start the training. They said she should rather get a job and earn money. So, she got a nanny job that pays her 10,000 naira. While she was saying it, she was crying because she understood that she had just missed a lifetime opportunity. 

I felt for her, but there was no other way I could help her. Most parents have killed the dreams of their children because they felt nothing good would come out of it. Please, let us learn to support our kids if they want to learn a skill.

Oluchi didn’t have any romantic relationships while growing up because she and her twin sister were very unfriendly to the boys that were interested in them. She waited till she was of age before getting involved in a romantic relationship. She later met the love of her life, Mr Humphrey Chinenye, and they got married in 2016. The couple is blessed with two daughters.

I don’t think I would have become a furniture maker if my husband hadn’t supported me. He is my apprentice, supervisor, assistant and everything. He goes with me to the work site, takes measurements, and calculates all the boards that are required in any job. Sometimes, while I’m in the market to buy my work materials, he will be with the kids until I come back. He has never complained about my career or tried to stop me. He is truly my best half. “

Oluchi is a very busy woman.

However, in her free time, she enjoys watching TV while chatting with her daughters and husband. She said that her biggest motivation is the desire to create a better life for herself and her children. She works hard to support her husband in providing for the family because she doesn’t want her children to hawk on the streets as she did.

“I made most of the clothes and cardigans that my family members wear. I also made most of the furniture in our flat. I can fix and repair electric switches and sockets. So every woman can do better things if she puts her mind to it. Don’t let anyone put you down. The challenges of life should stir you up.  Get a skill that will attract people to you. What do I mean? People come to me and request that I construct a bed or fix a door for them. They are attracted to me because I have value to offer. So, start offering a service of value and customers will come.”

Dear reader, if you’ve already identified what you are passionate about, then rise up and chase it shamelessly. A virtuous woman doesn’t stay idle. When you are earning money, your husband will respect you more and you will be supporting the home too. So please, learn from Mrs Oluchi’s story today and start doing something, no matter how small it is. After you have started, pray very hard and God will expand your business. We hope to hear your success story someday.

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