ABUBAKAR PAPONETTE found his calling about 14 years ago, when it was time for his toddler to enter preschool.
His chance attempt at plumbing eventually secured a comfortable life for him and his family.
"The first plumbing job I did was putting in two toilets in Addae's (his son's) daycare to help pay for the fee. I did a pretty good job and the teachers and parents told me I should look into it."
Now, Paponette, who turns 40 in April, is a master plumber, having completed several courses locally and abroad, earning licences that are recognised by the Water and Sewerage Authority. He is also a licensed sanitary constructor, project manager and businessman with substancial contracts under his company, Apap Plumbing and Construction Co Ltd.
The Arima-based business, he said, gained traction last year because his son, a budding athlete, is abroad studying and playing football and requires less of his father's attention. "I definitely have more time to focus on things like social media, best practice, to work harder, become more efficient and grow my business."
While many small companies have been forced to close down and large corporations are downsizing, Apap is fortunate to be among the small to medium-sized enterprises to have done the opposite, thriving in otherwise uncertain times. In fact, he managed to hire more workers at times, depending on the size of the task at hand, not just dealing with plumbing, but also renovations, masonry, tiling projects and new construction.
Some of his clients included Massy Food Stores, Food Masters, Disco Mart, Massy Distribution and Geddes Grant. He was also a plumbing foreman with the Ministry of Works and Transport. But he takes on small jobs too.
His slogan "No job is too small; We do it all 24/7," he said, is no exaggeration. He takes on projects of all sizes and frequently works very early or late hours to facilitate his clients' schedules.
Paponette also shares his expertise by offering affordable courses in person, and free tutorials and tips through his company's social media page.
"The main thing (for me as a plumber) is to educate the public, and (traditional) media and social media is the best way." He said the courses are particularly practical for beginners, with the first one starting on February 15 in west Trinidad and will cover the history and importance of plumbing, installing and maintaining basic plumbing systems, and the equipment and materials used in waste lines, supply lines and vent systems, in a do-it-yourself-type series.
"What I have is a world of experience and knowledge, and to back it up, I have what you might say is the support from the plumbing community."He wants to get the public to give plumbers due respect, something he said is lacking, not just in TT but worldwide, given the association of plumbing with sanitation or "dirty work," or the assumption that plumbing deals primarily with broken pipes.
He said building expertise is partly about knowing the experts who came before. So he studied the work of Charlie Mullins, founder and CEO of Pimlico Plumbers, and one of the most recognised masters in the trade anywhere in the world.
"I took a model from Charlie Mullins to bring to Trinidad," he said, "to give people that experience of expertise, quality, excellent service and advancement in all aspects of plumbing you can think about. I want to repackage plumbing in the eyes of TT. That is my edge."
"In five years' time, I want to see the company up the Caribbean islands," he said, essentially putting TT on the regional map for its expertise in waste water management and the most intricate aspects of plumbing and construction.
And his life has had positive changes in other ways too. He told Newsday he has come a long way since his checkered past. Up until his early twenties, he was involved in a gang. But after the birth of his son he decided it was time for a change. He needed to find legitimate work.
He worked for the Unemployment Relief Programme as a foreman. He then did a course in commercial diving, which might have offered him another promsing career path but for the collapse in the oil and gas industry.
"I used to work, most of the time, between his school schedule. So I used to do my plumbing (part-time) to the best of my ability and made sure I allocated time to him before and after school."
He was always training. Not just anyone can call him or herself a master plumber. He also has a diploma in plumbing.