One of the important tasks we have at Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village is preparing our students for life after high school. Some students will go to university while others will enter the workforce. In a country with many people and fewer jobs, skills are of utmost importance.
Students entering the workforce without specialized skills may have to settle for a job with lower income. For example, in the construction industry, the lowest rung of employment is the porter. Porters make around 1000 RWF per day (about USD $1.68). A porter may do any number of things such as cut wood or haul stones; it is extremely hard work. A carpenter, however, may make 2500 RWF per day (about USD $4.20). Clearly, having specialized skills is an advantage to our students.
At ASYV, outside of school, we have enrichment programs that seek to expose students to different fields and help them build skills. I teach the carpentry enrichment program for the equivalent of 9th and 10th grade students each Monday and Thursday.
On the first day of my carpentry EP, I was waiting near the center of the village for my students to show up. I had no idea who was in my program, so I asked two boys who were heading over toward the shed and wood supply. They said they were not in carpentry, but as they came back from that area a few minutes later one boy told me, "Your students are over there, but there is a problem. They are all girls." It was a powerful way to start my EP because it made me realize that through carpentry I could offer my students- most of them female- more than just skills, but empowerment through building.
We started with a partially-broken hammer, a box of nails, and a carpenter square from last year’s carpentry program; I added my small tree-limb saw, a 1.5 meter tape measure, and a pencil that I brought with me from the States. That first day, we covered the names of the tools and tool safety; each student got to practice using each tool. We built a small table that the students were quite proud of because they had not used most of the tools before the class.
I took a bus to Kigali on the weekend and bought myself a nice collection of tools for my students to use. I bought 4 hammers, 4 hand saws, 4 carpenter squares, 4 tape measures, and several sheets of sandpaper. About a month later, we got a donation of tools from America that added wood rasps, several sizes of c-clamps, and safety goggles.
In the past 6 weeks of carpentry, my 28 students have learned some of the basics of carpentry and have begun to apply their skills for village projects. Our first project was to build shoe shelves. We have built 9 shoe shelves for different houses. We built a projector stand for the computer lab. We are nearly finished with 4 benches and will build several more for use around the village. Upcoming projects include cabinets for the science center, shelves for the new computer labs, and tables for the canteen. By building items that the village needs, the students not only gain skills but get to see how their hard work benefits their community.
My students are getting better each week at hammering, sawing, measuring, and ensuring their joints are square and flush. Some of them are even starting to design their own projects; perhaps they are future carpenters at work!
|Before carpentry students built this shelf, the closet floor |
was covered in shoes. It was a great first assignment
(PS: A shout-out to the people that helped me learn tool use over the years- I am happily passing it on to my students!)