Shoe’s best friends

Ro Viliame Mavoa, second from left, with his colleagues at the Suva market. Picture: SENIMILI BRADBURGH

DREAMS can be made on the streets! We’ve heard stories of shoeshine boys moving on to become policemen, flight attendants and even bank tellers.

For two of Suva’s cobblers, that may be in the making.

A few years back, Ro Viliame Mavoa, was grappling with the reality of job scarcity and the need to fend for his young family.

He had very little luck with getting full-time paid employment so he decided to try out shoe repairing.

With no prior experience of the trade, he believed in himself and took it on as a challenge. Now, he has 10 years’ worth of knowledge and experience about the job.

“Yes, I agree that my job may be viewed negatively because it deals with shoes and the feet but when it comes to crunch time, food must be on the table and my family’s survival depends squarely on me,” Viliame said.

“I took on the challenge of mending shoes on the streets and in the process it became my first trade.”

With needles, strings, pliers, awls, stitchers and other tool of the trade as his friends, he makes sure any shoe he fixes demonstrates true craftsmanship and is done according to the requirements of his clients. He begins his day about 9am and “closes shop” at 5.30pm, six days a week.

“This is better than being unemployed. “I am able to support my family, pay for the bills and it seems I will be doing this for some time now because I am my own boss and love the job.”

You cannot miss Viliame at his work station within the Suva market area. He operates outside a kiosk with a group of young cobblers and over time they have become good friends.

Sher Khan, 49, has been a cobbler for the past 20 years and knows every nook and cranny within the city limits.

He remembers starting his trade outside what used to be Metropole Hotel, a notorious watering hole in central Suva.

Contrary to what people often think, he says a cobbler’s job is an honourable one in that it takes care of one of the most important items of dressing and enables someone to fully enjoy freedom of movement.

“Also, mending shoes allows me to meet new people each day. I fix any type of shoe for any type of person and in the process I get to mingle and interact with different groups of people on a daily basis,” the Nairai islander said.

With four children to feed and support, his job is a vital means of survival.

“I cut grass and carry out odd maintenance jobs as well but being a cobbler is something I enjoy.

“I also like working closely with other shoe repairmen and we are like a family. We help each other and treat each other just like brothers.

“We may seem like we are competing for people’s money but at the end of the day we are work colleagues and are always out there for each other.”

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