Blind but not visionless- an agro-processor’s story

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When construction worker Lawrence Braithwaite lost his sight to glaucoma in 2007, the road ahead was a prospect filled with misgivings and uncertainty. He had to find something else to do to make money and maintain his family.

Uncomfortable with accepting charity, Braithwaite shared his story of how he became an admired entrepreneur with innovative products produced under the company name Braf’s Manufacturing.

Looking back on how it all started, Lawrence remembers being told he would never see again.

“It hurt, yes; but I told myself it was not the end of the road. This is not the end of my life,” he said.

After trying to first rear chicken for sale and then salted fish which in both cases became prey to thieves, Lawrence decided to join the agro-processing industry.

“So I decided to do something that would be processed indoors,” he recalled.

Lawrence decided to experiment with making plantain flour and selling it. He first bought five pounds of plantains and ground them into powder using a hand-mill borrowed from a friend. He was able to get one pound of flour which he decided has the potential to grow.

With more and more plantains, he would make increasing amounts of flour and walk around in his community of Buxton and sell to his neighbours. In almost no time at all, he had a growing number of satisfied customers.

However, his troubles were not over as he one day accidentally walked into a trench. It was a stark reminder that life was tough without sight.

Shortly after, Lawrence again became a victim of robbery after 200 pounds of plantain purchased from the market was stolen by a man he asked to assist him in taking his load to a vehicle.

Lawrence said he was discouraged but quickly regained his cheerful personality, determined to press on.

“I never gave up,” he said. Instead, he borrowed money from his friends, bought more plantains and continued with his business.

His products had to satisfy Food and Drug certification requirements before he could go further.

He spoke of the difficulties encountered by a blind person when it came to getting his paperwork updated but he had to get it done and his products are now fully certified for both quality and hygiene.

Lawrence also beefed up his entrepreneurial skills by attending workshops at which he learned quickly how to market his products more effectively and operate a small business more efficiently.

He was able to benefit from a special training programme for disabled people, conducted by the Small Business Bureau.

Around that time, Lawrence moved to East Ruimveldt in Georgetown. Through his participation in the Small Business Bureau programme, he was able to secure funding to buy dehydrators and electrical mills.

In this way, he was able to produce a wider range of products, including barley flour, tamarind balls, and instant porridge. Lawrence specialises in quick-preparation foods suitable for folk who are unable to spend much time in the kitchen.

For example, his flavoured instant porridge mix—made of whole wheat flour and milk—requires only the addition of warm water to be table-ready. Besides this, his fish-cake mix—made from potato flour, fish, oats and seasonings—only requires being mixed with water, left to rest for 10 minutes and fried for one minute.

Lawrence’s never-say-die attitude has paid off as his business continues to grow. His long term goal is to set up a factory and create opportunities for employment. He is seeking land to achieve this goal.

Lawrence will be participating in the ‘Marketplace UncappeD’ exhibition hosted by the Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association (GMSA) on Sunday, December 8, 2019, at the Guyana National Stadium, Providence, East Bank Demerara.

It is not his first time participating but the small business owner has a treat in store for persons who visit his booth at the upcoming UncappeD event. “I will introduce a special dip made of tomatoes and bilimbi,” he said, noting that his various products will be on sale.

(Extracted and modified from Uncapped Features -produced by Sagacity Media)

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