BBL PARTICIPANT: Maria Mashaba, Relebogile Education Centre, Pankop, Mpumalanga
In a Nutshell
Through her participation in SocioTech’s Broad-Based Livelihoods (BBL) strategies to stimulate personal economic activity, Maria Mashaba from Pankop has seen her students become more focused and determined to build a prosperous future for themselves. As their teacher, Maria has also applied the BBL MyFuture messages to her own life, and started several side hustles, and taken firm steps to build her own profitable business over time.
I made leather car seats at Rosslyn in Pretoria for almost 18 years. I did that until the Covid lockdown in 2020. When the factory closed, I was offered a job as the upholstery skills trainer at the Relebogile Education Centre. So, here I am.
To learn upholstery, you need theoretical and practical education. When I got here, I found that there wasn’t a suitable textbook for the students to use. You can find different bits of knowledge in different places, but there was nothing that was a comprehensive description of everything that they needed to know. The books that did exist were very expensive. So, I have been putting together a training manual for my students that gives them a simple, clear idea of what they need to know.
The book and the theory can only take them so far. Upholstery is the type of skill that you have to learn by doing. Especially when working with leather, because that requires strength and balance. When I first came here in 2020, the students had no machine to practise on, so I have been letting them practise on my machine. That is not ideal – people learning can damage a machine – but they need to learn so I let them use it. I teach theory Monday to Thursday at school, and then on Friday they come to me at home, and I let them practise on my machine.
This is a poor community in a rural area and leather is expensive, so there is not a lot of demand for it. I think it is also important to teach the students how to work with other, less expensive, materials. Upholstery doesn’t need to be out of the price range of poor people. Everyone needs to sit, so people who reupholster sofas will always have customers if they can get the prices right. The key is to understand the market, and sell to where people are, not where you wish that they were.
"The key is to understand the market, and sell to where people are, not where you wish that they were...."
When SocioTech came here, the students and the teachers did the BBL MyFuture class together. I have found what I learnt very helpful. The message is very powerful. It has opened my mind to new ways of saving money and starting a business. It has made me see that you can start small, and gradually over time things can go up and up and up. Save R10 today and at the end of the month you may have saved R300.
It has been good to see the students applying this way of thinking in their work. As a teacher, I can see that there is much more focus and dedication than there was before. I can see that there has been a lot less absenteeism amongst the students. I have had several students come to me to discuss business ideas that they have. MyFuture really motivated them. They are happier now. They are excited about their prospects after graduating.
When it comes to MyFuture, I wasn’t just a teacher watching students, I was also participating and learning new life skills. I have taken several personal lessons out of the MyFuture training.
First, my upholstery textbook. At the moment it is roughly put together with staples and photocopies. It is not a proper book yet, but I think that there is a demand for it. I think it could be a business for me. I want to approach a publisher and then sell it as a side hustle. Not just to these students that I teach here, but also to other upholstery students across the country.
Second, I am sewing school bags, skipas and those sorts of things to get extra income. Every month I put money aside, because I have a 5-year plan. I want to save enough money to buy a machine for top-stitch.
One of my daughters lives with me and she also did the MyFuture training. We have decided to work together. My daughter is younger and stronger than me. As I get older, I am struggling to stretch the leather when I am doing upholstery work, but she has no problem. So, she pulls while I work.
I have the experience, and she has the strength. We are a great team.