By Corina Hadjicharalambous
St Benedict’s Technical Institute, which received its first year of investment in 2016, is only the second technical school that EPAfrica has ever partnered with in Uganda. These operate very differently to secondary schools – instead of teaching History, Science and English, students instead learn a variety of practical skills, ranging from Tailoring to Plumbing, Carpentry and Construction. For EPAfrica, this presents a lot of opportunities, as it allows us to adapt our model to a truly exciting new type of school. Yet this inevitably raises questions – will our model work here? What adaptations do we need to make to best work in this new environment?
Corina, Mikolaj and Amanda are this year’s Project Workers in St Benedict’s Technical Institute. Here, Corina discusses her experience of working with a Technical Institute, and the opportunities it provides:
Whether it’s buying a generator, installing a water filtration system or even buying batteries for the clocks the school has had stored in the storage room, we always ask ourselves before embarking on a new project ‘is this sustainable?’. Well, working in St Benedict’s Technical Institute just makes this question redundant. When you have students themselves building the new dormitory for the girls from scratch (i.e. making the bricks themselves during practicals) or watching them fix the electrical wiring in classrooms (always under the supervision of a teacher), it means two crucial things can happen. Firstly, you can recruit the school to help you build structures, such as improved cook stoves and install electrical systems. Secondly, and most importantly, it means that in the long run they can also repair these resources if they break or seem to be malfunctioning.
Working with a technical institute really feels like a true partnership – they rely as much on us for our different perspective and a pair of fresh eyes as we depend on them for their expertise and labour time, as they work on projects which are always welcomed as new learning opportunities for the students.
Being a Project Worker in a technical institute is in itself a great experience. This was not immediately apparent during the first few days in our school, where it felt as if we were playing hide and seek with the students. Despite our attempts to observe some practicals in order to understand how they are run, we always ended up returning to our accommodation without seeing students in classes, and wondering if school had actually been on. We later on discovered that practicals, which run for whole days, occur at different places within the huge area covered by the school grounds.
Once we actually got to observe some of their practicals, we were amazed at the things that the students could do. Tailoring students (who apparently sew their own clothes), showed some of their impressive skills on the sewing machines, while Building and Construction pupils spend hours under the blazing sun seemingly unfazed and barely tired, moulding bricks which they will later on use to build school buildings (and potentially one of our projects). This is another great experience that we have been able to have through working at St Benedict’s, as we get the chance to take a ‘sneak peek’ behind the scenes of how things we never thought of (or took for granted) are being done, such as bending pipes (in plumbing practicals) or taking measurements and cutting fabric to make shirts (in Tailoring practicals).
One of our biggest projects in terms of money, time and impact on the school is our transformation of the plumbing classroom into a library, which will also be used as a drawing room. The completion of this project could only be achieved in such a small timescale because of the expertise and practical skills that the school has to offer. The construction of at least 55 pieces of furniture – which included tables, stools, drawing boards and adjustable stands –was made possible by the cooperation of the Carpentry and Joinery department with the local fundi (workman).
For the room to be safely and effectively used as a library/drawing room, the floor had to be supplemented with cement, sand, and stone, and sockets along with light bulbs had to be installed. All of these were done by the students themselves, under the supervision of the appropriate teachers, as well as the Head Teacher himself, who used to be a Building and Construction teacher.
The development of our library/drawing room project is just one example of how the school as a whole has often been a guiding light in our projects, which reinforced the fruitful partnership we have had with St Benedict’s Technical Institute.
Partnership and sustainability are what EPAfrica is all about, and working with a technical institute has made both of these not only possible, but central to our work.