Crafting life in a coconut shell

Yousouf lives with his mother and grandmother in a modest house in Virugambakkam.
For representational purposes
For representational purposes

CHENNAI:  Childhood is a stage when memory consciousness is developed. The laughs, fights and struggles shape us for the future. But there are few who are burdened with responsibilities early on in life. To keep that up, they seek work, some alongside studies and other unfortunately drop out of school. Fifteen-year-old Mohammed Yousouf falls in the former category. 

Yousouf lives with his mother and grandmother in a modest house in Virugambakkam.  After his father abandoned their family, these two women became pillars of strength for the class 9 of Chennai High Secondary School in the same locality. To support his family, he crafts and sells novelties made of coconut shells.

Mohammed Yousouf
Mohammed Yousouf

One for the family
Yousouf dreams of becoming a mechanical engineer. But for now, his life revolves around books, family, and new ideas for crafts. Yousouf is the only earning member of his family. “I love studying and going to school. It is never a problem for me to balance school and my work. My interest in studies keeps me going and helps me manage both. I want to study more to be a mechanical engineer and make everyone happy,” he shares.

Yousouf’s mother is nothing but proud of her son. Talking about the journey they had to face as a family and how his son became the strength of the family, she shares, “After his father left us, we got no help; neither relatives nor any organisation came forward. I am very proud of him. I used to work in a leather company, but I had fallen sick and had to quit my job. I am also not able to help him; he does everything alone. The way he handles everything makes me more proud and happy. Academically also, he is a very bright student. He works hard every day.”

Learn and sell
It all started with creating something unique for a crafting competition in school two years ago. He learned to make some items using coconut shells. His teacher motivated him to create something different, and in the process, Yousouf got the weapon to make ends meet. After the competition, he decided to sell the products among teachers and students in his school. “My class teacher asked me to find something unique and helped me learn from YouTube. I learned in 30 minutes. The appreciation and winning the competition made me think about learning more on creating and selling. My teachers helped me a lot, from motivating me to craft to buying the products and selling,” he says.

Yousouf purchases the coconut shells from local vendors. After deforming the shells, he makes miniature models of vehicles as showpieces, water bottles, customised lamps with people’s names and pictures, and more utilities. Soon, he turned it into a social media business with the help of a popular content creator.

“Previously, I used to sell the products at my school; Ashik Sir (one of the content creators from Chennai) gave me the idea to start the Instagram business. With the help of Instagram, I recently attended my first arts and crafts expo conducted at Anna Nagar Tower Park and I am looking forward to joining more. The response from people motivates me a lot. I made a decent sale and got a lot of blessings from the customers. I try to keep the pricing as minimal as possible — it’s between `200 and `900. On an average it is `450. When people ask to decrease the price further, it becomes difficult, as a lot of effort goes in. It takes around five days to make one auto,” he says.

In a world that is moving towards sustainability, this young boy is unknowingly determined to make a mark and change his life. In a perfect world where a 15-year-old fights to balance between playground, friends, and books, Yousouf only knows, “Struggles will always be there, but I want to focus on my work. Create more crafts, earn more so that I can make my family happy and proud.”  

For details, visit: @cocoshellartist on Instagram

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