Students put Africa visits to practical use

11th January 2008 at 00:00

From building work to beauty tips, Tanzanian schools and colleges will benefit from UK links.

Further education students will soon begin taking their skills to Africa in a new scheme to offer gap year-style opportunities.

Eight colleges have signed up to Fair Trade in Skills, an initiative designed to build partnerships between UK colleges and Tanzania.

The first group from City of Bristol College will fly to Tanzania this summer to work at a home for the elderly. Boston College in Lincolnshire is considering a trip next year, sending a group to build a school dormitory.

The scheme will give students the chance to practise skills and broaden their experience, while creating opportunities for FE staff to coach and mentor Tanzanian teachers and managers. It also aims to develop fundraising in colleges to contribute computers, books and other resources for the country's schools and vocational colleges.

The idea of Fair Trade in Skills began to form three years ago after a visit to the Morogoro district in Tanzania by Ken Spours of London University's Institute of Education, who was shocked by the poverty. A range of national FE bodies have become involved, including the Association for College Management, the Association of Colleges, the University and College Union, Unison, Lifelong Learning UK and the Centre for Excellence in Leadership.

City of Bristol College is one of the scheme's prime movers. Over the past two years, students and staff have raised pound;6,000 for a range of projects in Morogoro, including providing furniture for schools, a water bore hole and medicines.

Hair and beauty students are in regular email contact with their counterparts at the regional vocational training and services centre in Dar es Salaam. They have donated equipment and exchange photographs to learn about different styles of hairdressing.

This summer a dozen Bristol students, from catering, media, hair and beauty and A-level courses, will go out to visit a vocational college, meet students and help redecorate a home for destitute elderly people. The trip is being subsidised by the Commonwealth Youth Exchange Council, though the students will still have to raise pound;500 each.

Judy Stradling, City of Bristol College's vice-principal, said gaining funding has been challenging. "We went first of all to the British Council, but they are very much directed at schools. We had difficulty matching what we wanted to do with our students to the criteria of British Council-type projects."

Boston College is also organising a visit to Tanzania, though the project is still in its very early stages.

"They are crying out in particular for girls' dormitories, because the schools are so geographically isolated," said John Allison-Maybank, the director of client services.

"Once you start with an idea like this, it snowballs. We have the lads in construction, but also uniformed public services students who could put the camp up and do a bit of labouring. They need feeding, so we could pull in catering students."

Balls to poverty, back page.

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