“That training truly changed my life”, one trainee explained while busily repairing the engine of a customer’s motorcycle. Having never attended school in his life, Sonam Gonbo is illiterate and can’t write his own name. He enlisted in the army for a few years because his parents are poor and he couldn’t find any employment opportunities. After returning home from the army, he got married to a local woman and had a son. Because his sole source of income was collection of a local wild fungus that grows only once a year, he had to borrow cash from his neighbors for purchases as basic as food and clothes for his family.
Then, in the summer of 2005, he was granted an unexpected opportunity: he was selected as one of ten individuals to be trained in motorcycle repair skills, in a course supported by The Bridge Fund (TBF). Recognizing that this could become a turning point in life, he studied diligently for six months, at the end of which he received the ‘best trainee’ award. He returned to his hometown equipped not only with new tools and parts provided by TBF, but also with an incomegenerating skill and renewed self confidence. He immediately started his own repair shop, and was pleasantly surprised to find that he could earn over 100 USD per week in revenue, even though he charges his local customers quite generously. This income is more than local government officials earn, and is certainly more than he had ever earned before.
Sonam Gonbo is not the only newly empowered entrepreneur among the ten trainees, all of whom come from Sershul County, one of the poorest and most remote counties in Sichuan Province. In fact, all ten trainees decided to open their own repair shops in their respective hometowns, some of which are in extremely remote towns separated from the county seat by unpaved, treacherous roads. TBF staff originally expected only a few of the 10 trainees to start their own business and the others to work for existing repair shops in the county, as there are significant risks and obstacles in starting any business.