Aussie trade school teaches Afghan kids useful skills

July 23rd, 2010 - 7:42 pm ICT by BNO News  

KABUL (BNO NEWS) - The Australian 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment is doing its part to help the economy in the Afghan city of Tarin Kowt by supplying skilled, qualified Afghan workers to local contractors.

The workers are graduates of the successful Australian run Trade Training School located at Kamp Holland in Tarin Kowt. The school has been in operation for about four years and has graduated more than 2,000 students who learned basic skills in carpentry, concrete, tiling, and painting, as well as how to build trusses, and any other courses requested by contractors in town.

“We try to keep the skills relevant to what’s needed in town,” said Cpl. Brett Corrigan, the officer-in-charge of the trade school. “Most of the kids go out and get hired by local contractors immediately after graduating from the school.”

This is Corrigan’s second time with the school, his first was in 2006, and he said they have moved more toward a focus on the quality of training offered, rather than the number of students they put through. The more training the kids come away with, the better opportunities they have.

“We start them with a three-week basic course where they learn everything from how to read a tape measure to all the basic skills, because all the simple things we take for granted, they can’t do,” Corrigan said. “We then get them on an advanced roofing and carpentry course where they learn to pitch a roof, build trusses and modern building techniques.

“We’re getting there slowly, and with the kids getting five courses under their belt, they can show up at a contractor and say, ‘I’ve done this course, this course, and this course, and I can do these things,’ and get a job easier,” he added. “The contractors look at it as, ‘I can use this kid for the concrete, but I can also use him to put the roof on,’ so it’s giving the kids a broader scope of job opportunities.”

To help the graduates, they receive a certificate for each course they complete, and are given a tool set to use when they work.

“There are still kids working for contractors in town that went through the school the first time I was here in 2008, so they are getting some good opportunities,” Corrigan said.

Helping the kids learn skills they can use is just one of the goals the trade school has. They use local instructors in all of the classes, and eventually they want the school to move into town and be run completely by the Afghans.

“The biggest change that we’ve seen is actually in our nine local instructors,” said Corrigan. “Out of the nine, six of them have been with us since we started in 2006, so they’ve been working with Australians for four and a half years. In the skill sets that they’ve picked up, they are starting to pay a lot more attention to detail in their work. Before they used to say ‘it’s built, that’s good enough,’ we’d say no, it’s not, you can do better than that, and we’d show them how and to be proud of their work.”

Corrigan said that the local instructors run all of the courses, and the Australians are now there just for safety, support and to help introduce new things to the instructors.

To get students for each course, two of the Afghan instructors go out into the local markets and bazaars in town and make announcements. They put out the information on what classes are starting and where to go to sign up. They are usually looking for about 20 students, but have had up to 80 show up.

“Most of the kids we take are around 14-15-years-old, but we’ve had them as young as 5- or 6-years-old show up,” said Corrigan. “We have to turn them away, because I’m not willing to put a power tool in the hands of kids that young.”

Once the kids are in the school and progressing, the instructors have them make something they can take home with them.

“We get them to build a window, a door, a tool box, a Koran holder…something they can take home and show their parents and say, ‘I made this,’” he said. “That’s actually making a big difference because the whole community is behind this place, and that helps, because the end-goal is to have the Afghan instructors run this in town. We’re trying to instil a strong work ethic in them, and it’s working very well.”

Corrigan said he gets a great deal of personal satisfaction from helping the Afghans improve their capability for work, which translates into a better economic situation and a better way of life for the entire area.

“It’s very rewarding,” he said. “We’ll get a kid in on his first day here and he won’t even know how to hold a tape measure or mark a piece of timber. We go through all the processes, they go through the courses, and then we’ll have a final project at the end.

“For a kid that couldn’t use a hand saw when they got here, and to see them do what they do at the end, it’s very rewarding. These kids have to grow up quick and we’re just trying the best way to help them, and that’s what’s rewarding, giving the kids hope and a job in their community.”

With every class that graduates and kids going out into the Tarin Kowt community to work, they are not just building houses and other material things, they are building their economy and the hopes of Afghans throughout the area.

(This article was written and contributed by Master Sgt. Steve Horton.)

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