Ashaiman, a town in the Greater Accra Region of Ghana, has areas with very interesting names. Most of the areas in Ashaiman are named after some of the world’s renowned cities.
One of such areas is Ashaiman-New York, where 38-year-old Ibrahim Sumaila is doing the unthinkable with very little resources.
Ibrahim Sumaila was born and raised in Tema, which is about 3km from Ashaiman. He moved to Ashaiman-New York in 2010, where he has since been living and working as a welder and bicycle mechanic.
Transiting from painting to welding/bicycle mechanics
Interestingly, he started off as a visual artist, and according to him, he was and is still very good at painting.
“That’s what I grew up doing… I can paint any object,” he said. “I was designing signboards and all that. I was even painting people. But when this digital printing started coming, I had to be smart and acquire another job skill.”
This led him into becoming a bicycle mechanic while in Junior High School (JHS). After JHS, he enrolled at Don Bosco Vocational Institute to learn welding in addition to the skill he already acquired as a bicycle mechanic.
When he completed vocational school, he took a job at the Tema Port as a labourer at the shipyard, with the intention of making money to buy a welding machine and other tools to enable him to open his own mechanic shop.
After working at Tema Harbour for a while, he was able to save enough money to acquire his first welding machine. He then decided to quit the job at the Port and focus on making a living with the skills he has acquired in bicycle mechanics and welding. He set up a welding/mechanic shop in Ashaiman-New York in 2010 and started work.
“From there, I tried to challenge myself. I tried to do new things. In trying to challenge myself, I went on YouTube to learn new things and I also learn from anything I see around,” he said.
Building motorized bicycles
The idea to manufacture bicycles that use engines, however, was birthed when Ibrahim observed that a lot of people in his area were acquiring motorbikes which enabled them to travel long distances without the stress that comes with using bicycles.
Realising that he would be out of business due to this development, he came up with the idea of building motorized bicycles.
“So, I started making these bicycles. The thing came like a dream. Already, my gift of art helps me to dream of what to design and I use the welding experience to mould it. After that I also use the mechanic experience to set it up,” he said. “When I started, it wasn’t easy. Sometimes, I have to roam from scrapyard to scrapyard just to search for parts that I can use to bring out my dreams.”
Ibrahim has, so far, designed and built over fifty motorized bicycles. He has also built actual motorbikes and other forms of motorized bicycles and tricycles, including specially designed motorbikes for the physically challenged.
“A physically challenged man came to me the other day and he was asking whether I can turn a motorbike into a tricycle so that he can also ride around with it. I thank God that by His grace and wisdom, I was able to do it for him. Seriously, he was amazed. I also did one for another physically challenged man. I am happy when I see this man riding alone with less burden.”
“I wish I will do more for my brothers and sisters who are disabled,” he said.
Ibrahim Sumaila, however, believes when he is supported with better machines and equipment, he will be able to manufacture bigger and better products.
“Currently, I’m using simple machines to work. If I get powerful machines, that would help me do better. When I get support, I can do better. I think I can do more to help. I have more to do. I have a lot to give out.”
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