Stories of my adventures in Madagascar… for my daughter and son

Posts tagged “English


My purpose for being in Madagascar was to teach carpentry.  In connection with the SKC already established, there were still many teens and young adults for which traditional schooling was no longer possible.  The ministry then decided to start a vocational school to train these young men and women to have skills that they could use to find a job in the workplace or start of business of their own.  With a moderate amount of skills there were jobs available, so it was a much better opportunity than their current path in life, which would likely be that of a menial labor worker.

The three skills that the school was to teach were computers/keyboarding, sewing, and carpentry.  The year I was going, was to be the first year of the carpentry program.  Wood working has always been an interest of mine and others in my family, so I was really excited about the opportunity.

Upon arriving in M/car I found that I would be starting from scratch on developing the program.  There was a limited amount of curriculum that Tom had acquired, and there was a great shop in need of some clean up and organization.  At some point previously, a work and witness team had walled off a corner of the basement where a collection of power tools and a workbench had been placed.  I had no idea  the level of effort it would take to teach the incoming students.

My task when I arrived was to set up the shop.  I did all of this in July and August between the two work and witness teams.  The shop was already well stocked with Grizzly power tools: table saw, band saw, lathe, jointer, planer, combo sander, drill press, shaper, and miter saw.  A few of them were being used, but some had not really been set up yet.  In addition, most of the shop area was being used for storage, so there were several pallets of goods taking up space.

First step, cleaning.  I moved the pallets out, swept, vacuumed, dusted off all the tools.  The area was actually pretty spacious, so  next, I worked on determining the amount of space needed for each power tool.  After a few design tweaks, I moved the tools around into their determined positions.

Second step starting up the tools.  Some were being used already, so I worked on adjusting and calibrating each of them.  For the others, there were a few hiccups.  Upon starting two of the machines, the capacitors blew.  Thankfully we found this before the second W&W team came, so they were able to bring replacements.  It turned out some wiring was crossed, that we were able to easily fix, and get the tools up and running again.

After getting the shop tools organized, set up and calibrated,  I then finished setting up the shop for the students.  There were no workbenches, so David and I built about six workbenches along one wall of the shop.  We also collected tools necessary to teach the students the finer points of crafting with hand tools.  We focused on teaching the hand tools, as that is the type of work they would most likely be doing upon leaving the program.  Near the end of the school year, I began teaching the use of the power tools to a few of the students.

The student workbenches

With the shop set up, and waiting for the school year to begin, I got the chance to build a few projects for David and Lisa and a few other people.  I built a bunk bed, bookcase, desk, a single bed, an entertainment center, and a small armoire.  It was not museum quality, but I was proud of my work, and had a lot of fun building pieces of furniture.  Unfortunately, the wood available that we used was never really cured properly, so after several months, many of the pieces began warping.  It was a hard problem to find a solution for.

When school started, my students were very raw, and from a variety of backgrounds.  They had all received little or no schooling, and a few of them likely had learning disabilities.  Teaching was a difficult process.  We started small, identifying tools and their uses, learning to measure, learning to use each tool.  Cutting straight lines with a hand saw was one of the first difficult obstacles to overcome.

The sense of quality was very different among these students then my own understanding, and may have shed some light on the state of maintenance and quality among infrastructure in the country as whole.  For them, completing the task was sufficient, quality was not a concern.  I spent a lot of time trying to instill a sense of quality, and that completion was not enough, but making it look good, and long-lasting was equally important.

After getting past basic tool usage.  We moved on to more complex tasks.  For a few new ideas and tasks, I would design a project that practiced those tasks.  So along  the way, we made more and more complex projects, eventually practicing all that was learned.  At one point, I brought Lisa down to judge their projects, to help reinforce the concept of quality.

In addition to vocational skills, the students also learned English and took a Bible class.  I taught a small English class for a few of the computer students that already spoke English.  Not knowing much about teaching English, I made it a conversational class.  I would have the students rotate brining a topic to class for everyone to discuss, and therefore, practice speaking in English.  Through this, I was able to learn a lot about Madagascar.  The students discussed the state of affairs in Madagascar, their way of life, and what they see for the future.

Patrice, myself, and most of the wood shop class

At the end of the school year we had a graduation ceremony.  The students sang songs, and we handed out certificates, and took lots of pictures.  It was a great occasion and a great conclusion to the school year.

One of my most special students was Andrianjaka.  Andrianjaka had what I presumed was epilepsy that caused him to occasionally have seizures, though he never had one while in my class.  Knowledge of this kind of thing is limited in M/car, so everyone presumed he was possessed, or at least just crazy.  He also clearly had some mental disability as well.

Nonetheless, he faithfully showed up to class each day, even on days when no one else came.  He slowly caught on to some of the concepts, but never made real solid progress.  However, he kept working hard, and always came with a smile on his face.

One morning, Andrianjaka was found dead on the side of a road.  Perhaps, he had a seizure while walking home the previous evening, and with no help, passed away in a ditch until he was found in the morning by a passerby.   He had a large funeral with many people in attendance and was laid to rest in a cemetery outside of town.

It’s a sad event that sticks with me.  However, unbelievable even to myself, I made no mention of his passing in the journal I kept during my time in M/car.  Perhaps at some point, I realized that life was just different there… and more fragile.  In the rush of writing  my journal, simply to keep track of my actions each day, I forgot about the details and the relationships built in everyday life.

I mourn for Andrianjaka, for a young man, with never much hope in life, who had been written off by all but a few as un-helpable, who will stay firm in my memory the rest of my life.