To most youth along the shores of Lake Victoria, fishing is almost an automatic source of livelihood when one comes of age.
Their lives are intertwined with the Lake to which they become exposed at a very tender age when they accompany their parents or guardians for a bath or to play with their agemates.
This was the case with Joshua Odoyo Ogalo, 35 years who hails from Sirongo beach in Bondo Sub County whom circumstances forced to drop out of school in form two.
He, like most energetic young men from the shores of the second largest fresh water lake in the world, had no other place to turn to for livelihood, but the alluring invitation from the expansive Lake Victoria.
He joined a team of young fishermen who specialised in catching Omena and every evening, they would row their boats deep into the lake to look for the tiny fish, a delicacy amongst the local community.
Whenever he joined other young men as they set sail for a fishing expedition every evening, it never occurred to him that one day, he will be a much sought after expert boat builder.
After several months, Ogalo would leave the local beach and venture deep into the lake, settling amongst a fishing community in Uganda where, among the dwellers, was a boat maker.
New in the area, Ogalo would occasionally find himself forlorn after a fishing expedition. And it is this boredom that led him to the shorelines where his benefactor used to practice his skills of making and repairing boats.
Eventually, Ogalo developed interest in boat making and would spend most of his time with the fundi whom he had befriended.
“I started this work in 2012 after being trained by a friend in Uganda,” he says adding, “I had gone there as an omena fisherman and developed interest in this trade,” explaining that he was also driven by the ever rising number of youth who were venturing in the fishing trade.
Ogalo, who spoke to the Kenya News Agency at Sirongo beach while carrying out repair works on a boat said that much as he was engaged in fishing, deep in his heart, he had made up his mind to train in a skill that would help him earn an honest living.
After a few years as an apprentice, his benefactor cum friend built faith in him and would ask him to undertake some crucial boat works that helped him refine his skills as boat builder.
The father of two says that he decided to set his base close home in order to be close to the family but added that he occasionally travels outside the local beaches to carry out repair works on boats whenever called upon.
Ogalo says that boat builders in the area are few, only five between Sirongo and Liunda beaches who serve even fishermen in several Lake Victoria beaches.
“This income from this trade is not bad. I can make Sh20,000 monthly,” he says, adding that the money has helped him take good care of his family’s needs.
One of the challenges in the trade is raw materials, says Ogalo who adds that they have to rely on hard wood from Uganda.
“We mainly use Olwa hard wood that is only available in Uganda and is sold exorbitantly,” he says adding that other materials apart from the hard wood are found locally.
Another challenge, he says, comes during the off peak season when fishermen have to migrate deeper into the lake. This is a period that makes him and his colleagues idle and for survival, they have to resort for other menial jobs in construction sites (mjengo).
He advices the youth to go for skills that would enable them survive in the competitive world instead of idling about, waiting for free goodies.
“In most cases, the youth find themselves at the wrong side of the law because of idleness,” he says adding “if you have something to keep you busy, you will never find yourself there.”
By Philip Onyango