How Mark earns a living from mending shoes


MARK Kalaka is one of the many men you see sitting from morning until dusk outside shops with shoe-mending items laid out in front of them.
It’s their main source of income. They are called cobblers. They mend shoes, or stuff made of leather such as bags.
Although their numbers are dwindling in many developed countries as more advanced ways of mending shoes are introduced, they are still popular in developing nations such as Papua New Guinea.
In Port Moresby for example, there is a group of them sitting in a line outside a major supermarket in Waigani North.
If you are a new client, they will all try to get your attention. Business there is brisk.
Mark, 40, sits near an old telephone booth in Mt Hagen city during the day. It’s the particular spot in the city he picks to conduct his small business, although he occasionally moves to other spots in the city when the need arises.

“ Better to do a dirty job to earn some little money rather than stealing.”

His tools are basic and simple: shoe polish, brush, rolls of twine, thick needle-like pins and pieces of cloth.
Mark is from Margarima district in Southern Highlands.
He left his family and moved to live in Mt Hagen in 2002.
He has never been to school so the chance of getting a well-paid job even in shops and businesses in town is almost nil.
He has gradually developed the skills to mend shoes in the past 14 years. He has not perfected the art yet but his clients go away satisfied.
He makes up to K50 a day. It can be more on a busy week. In a fortnight, he can earn up to K600.
He sends money back to support his family in Margarima.
“Since I learned how to fix shoes and sandals, I decided to sit on the street and show people what I do.”
He believes that what he earns is a lot more than those employed in shops, factories and even government offices.
The big advantage for him is that he is his own boss and does what he likes. There is no one to tell him what to do.
His only expenses are for his meals and bus fares from the Awi Block in Jiwaka to Mt Hagen, Monday to Saturday, and return. He spends some money on his personal needs.
“I love what am doing despite sitting in the hot sun because at least I am making some money.”
He refuses to depend on someone else to provide him food and his daily needs. Nobody is going to turn up suddenly to give him money.
He has to sweat his guts out to survive.
Of course he has to deal with the competition in the small market in Mt Hagen.
He knows he has to be consistent in his work, do the best he can so that his clients trust him.
He did not go to a school to learn shoe repair craftsmanship. He learned from watching others do it.
And he is not worried if people look down on him as he sits there on the footpath as they walk past.
“Better to do a dirty job to earn some little money rather than stealing.”

One thought on “How Mark earns a living from mending shoes

  • Thank you for this article. I have seen this chap and two or three others sitting in line at the spot you have named. I agree with you that such menial job, though unpalatable it may seem is an honest and decent way of generating income rather than opting to steal using different illegal means of supporting one’s livelihood.

    I had the opportunity of getting my shoes mended by one of these at the same place when I noted two incidents. First a scruppy looking boy of about twelve walked past him while he was stitching my shoes, kicked his legs and rushed off. I immediately asked him if this happened at previous times but he did not respond. Next after ten minutes a begger like man in a dirty baggy clothes came to same man and demanded K2. 00 as tax for using the spot he was operating from.

    I was incensed at this behavior and asked what share he had in the this entrepreneurship and when he realized that my son and nephew both in their twenties looking aggressively at him, he said “sorry boss, bai mi Kam Bek bihain and fled”.

    While a poor person is trying to make ends meet in an honest and rudimentary means of income, for him to be harrashed and threatened by lazy street beggers and diliquents is repulse and extremely disappointing. City authorities should look at ways to formalise such actives by providing safe environment for such to operate and clamp down on pick pockets and harrasers like the two I mentioned.

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