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How a Uganda Boiler Operator became a prolific Plumber in Holland

In 2007, Richard Kalyesubula began making regular visits from his home in Kireka to Gouda Gold - a Dutch-run cheese company in Luzira. Back then, his father won a contract to work on a steam-producing machine called a boiler, which the Dutch investors wanted to produce high-quality cheese.

Known as a simple plumber with big dreams, Kalyesubula volunteered to help his old man. Together they burnt the midnight oil until the boiler coughed steam much to the investors’ delight.

As his father got money from the project, Kalyesubula gained skills so much that company owners pleaded with him to stay as a boiler operator. That is how it all started for Kalyesubula—from boiler operator to cheese expert and now welder.

Gerrit van der Leeuw and his wife Marlene, the owners of Gouda Gold, impressed by 34-year-old Kalyesubula’s conviction, facilitated his trip to Holland so as to enhance his skills. They further extended their generosity by offering him a home in Wijnjewoude.

Kalyesubula now works in Surhuisterveen, Holland, and plans to improve Uganda’s vocational and technical skills upon his return by training others. In a drab factory, his eyes sparkle and his smile lights up the workplace at Lasmotec. For now Kalyesubula is a happy man, working as a plumber, deep in the Frisian Wâlden.

About ten years ago, the couple came into Kalyesubula’s life when they were starting a cheese factory (Gouda Gold). And with the assistance of Dutch companies - Lasmotec and Sherjon, dairy equipment was manufactured and installed in Gouda Gold.

While at Gouda Gold, Kalyesubula worked like a machine and had a positive attitude to work, yet he was working with machines he had never seen before. He said that he then knew this is what he had always wanted to do. Besides his enthusiasm, his boss Van der Leeuw described him as “loyal and very curious at work”.

“I will teach you the tricks of lassersvak (Dutch for welding),” said Van der Leeuw, who takes Kalyesubula as a son.

However, Kalyesubula had to buy his plane ticket to show how serious he was about the offer. He thus saved for two years and bought his ticket in February.

“To me, Gerrit is not a person; he is the embodiment of hope. Hope for a better future not only for myself but for more Ugandans,” said Kalyesubula of his Dutch mentor.

He also hopes to emulate his mentor by training Ugandans in metalwork.

“Top welding, especially in stainless steel is hard to find, while the dairy sector is on the eve of growth. More plants for the processing of milk and other food-stuffs will soon be mushrooming. This kind of skill is urgently needed and I’m prepared to train and work,’’ said Kalyesubula.

He hopes to start up a business at home that focuses on making milk collection tanks that can be loaded on trucks, which he thinks Uganda lacks.

“That is not easy, I know,” he said.

As a boy, he attended Bunyonyi Primary School and Blessed Sacrement SS Kimanya in Masaka. His interest in meatalwork saw him join St Kizito Technical School, Iganga Technical School and later Kyambogo Polytechnic Institute.

At the end of his three-month theoretical and practical training, Kalyesubula will return with a certificate and will continue seeking Van der Leeuw’s advice via e-mail and on phone. He has also established ties with Scherjon Dairy Equipment, which incidentally has ties with the Ugandan dairy sector.

“We cannot teach him every lesson here in Surhuisterveen because of the time limit, but it is also not necessary. With this skill, if you get the basic knowledge, then the sky is the limit on what you can learn and do yourself,” said Van der Leeuw.

“He is innovative, cares and loves what he is doing, which is good for him and for Ugandans who choose to perceive it positively,” he added.

Van der Leeuw noted that in Uganda, people look down on such skills as metalwork and hopes Kalyesubulya will overcome the negative attitude.

“My guess is Kalyesubula will find it hard to gain a stand there, but he must if he is to see his dream come to pass. As for us and all the Lasmotec team, we feel good when we give skills to someone who needs them and is willing to teach others,” he noted.

Due to his keen interest, Kalyesubula has finished his studies in three weeks instead of the stipulated three months.

“Every day I am here now, everything I still learn is bonus,’’ he said.

by Wieberen Elverdink & David Tash Lumu: The Observer Newspaper 5 April 2012

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