Give students a desk, and they’ll learn for a year. Show students how to make a desk and they’ll learn for life.
East Kildonan couple Peter and Evril Hagenlocher recently spent a year helping at the Fruits of Hope Academy, a Christian-based school located on the outskirts of Kigali, Rwanda’s capital.
After being encouraged by their educator friends to get involved with the school for several years, the couple decided to head to the school to help in September 2012, returning to Winnipeg the following September. They will travel back in February in order to continue their work, expecting to stay until December.
Evril, 56, requested a leave of absence from her teaching job at The King’s School in order to get involved, while Peter, turning 58 on Jan. 23, left his job as a fireplace salesman. Evril said she had some apprehension about dropping everything to head across the ocean, but her husband helped put things in perspective.
"One day Peter said to me ‘Haven’t we had it good? All these years, we’ve had everything, so what’s the big deal? Why not leave for a year?’" Evril recalled. "At this point in our lives, we were young enough where health wasn’t a problem, our children are adults."
One of the major developments the Hagenlochers were able to help enact was creating an industrial arts program for the school. It started when Peter offered to build furnishings for a new classroom at the school during the summer break in November and December 2012.
After gathering the tools necessary for woodworking, he decided it would be worthwhile to teach local residents some skills. After starting a program with six adults, including one man who could not hear or speak, Peter also created a program for the 24 Grade 6 students at the school.
Peter, who spent approximately a decade as a roofing contractor, set up shop in a small, unused classroom at the school. For the younger class, he also set up a table outside because the class was too large for the classroom.
With the adult class, the group created a futon couch, eventually selling it for approximately 200,000 Rwandan francs ($300 Canadian), splitting the proceeds between the labourers. One, named Jean-Paul, used his income to help continue woodworking.
"Once we built it and sold it, he got approximately 18,000 francs or about $30," Peter said. "The first thing he did was he spent 12,000 of that, or $20, on a plane (a tool for shaping wood)."
Peter said the man later found employment in the local wood market.
The woodworking education comes at a time when the country is facing a shortage of skilled labourers in such trades, as the Rwandan government’s focus was on jobs such as information technology in past years.
The 24 Grade 6 students he worked with each created something practical — a portable desk, with a built-in drawer, on which they could do their homework, as many didn’t even have a table at home.
"We thought this was a good idea — they could at least go outside and sit on a rock," he said.
Evril, meanwhile, worked directly with the school’s teachers identifying learning needs for students, as many teachers had students repeat concepts out loud but didn’t always delve into explaining the concepts.
"They might not really know it. They might not understand it," she said.
For more information on the school, visit www.fruitsofhopeacademy.com.