Using TRU skills to make a difference
It wasn’t the kind of work site for which Joel Woitas and Tawny Fortier and their classmates had planned.
The plan the group of nine Thompson Rivers University students had sketched out in their heads before departing for southern Mexico had involved electric tools.
But, save for some generators, the students — all part of the Electrical Foundation program — were decidedly off the grid.
That was the point.
While field work is a typical part of the TRU trades program, the Mexico trip was the first time field school has gone international.
Student electricians who opted to take part in the pilot project spent two weeks in Mexico’s Oaxaca state, working with international development group Esperanza to install solar panels and bring electricity to a village with no utilities.
“It’s one thing to be able to say I wired the dream home at Sun Rivers, but it’s another thing to say, ‘Hey, I went to a small community in Mexico and installed solar panels and lighting for them,’” Woitas said.
The students, who paid for their trips, spent their days wiring and installing the panels, which wasn’t always a straightforward process.
“Here, you don’t have enough wire, you go out and buy more wire. You need a hammer, you go buy a hammer,” Woitas said.
“There, the nearest hardware store is two hours away. You make do with what you’ve got.”
The students also taught villagers how to care for their solar systems and spoke at a nearby university as part of the trip.
“Getting to practise the trade I want to get into, out of country, was really special,” Fortier said, noting the highlight of the trip was making a connection with the villagers who hosted her group during their visit.
She plans to return to the area at some point with her daughter and visit some of the friends she has made.
TRU instructor Dana McIntyre said the school plans to offer another international field session in Mexico this fall.
“From the school’s point of view, these young people have just gotten new skills and their focus in acquiring those skills is to go out and get a job,” he says.
“But, I think one of the things this trip offers is an opportunity for them to see how their new skills can make a difference in people’s lives.”