Every year, Tools for Opportunity tries to make one or two trips to Central America. During each trip, we have one or more trainers on our team to teach new woodworking skills to local craftsmen, carpenters, woodcarvers, and furniture makers.
Before each trip, there is an enormous amount of planning and preparation that needs to take place. The first item on the agenda is finding eligible craftsmen in our target areas such as El Salvador and Honduras. We have a local team member in El Salvador that interviews craftsmen to determine their eligibility for training and what specific training is needed. One of our board members annually visits Honduras for several weeks to work with local residents to find craftsmen that need our assistance.
While candidates for training are being selected, we work on gathering tool donations for shipment to the training areas. These tools can be donated by individuals or tool companies. We accept usable power tools like hand drills, routers, and circular saws. We also try to gather as many hand tools as possible such as chisels, clamps, carving tools, and hand planes.
If we are lacking any necessary tools for training our carpenters, we must purchase them. We’ll search around for the best pricing and look to tool manufacturers that are wanting to get rid of old stock. Sometimes, we’ll wait and purchase tools in the host country if the prices are reasonable.
Our tool shipments are sent by cargo ship to the target location many months ahead of time. The tools are stored until they’re needed for training.
In the meantime, travel arrangements need to be made for our team. This includes air fare, lodging, and food. As you can imagine, these expenses add up fast.
Once our team arrives in-country, the work begins. Classes are held that may have anywhere from 4 to 12 students. These students could be young people that have had some technical training and want to expand their skills. Other students have been woodworking for many years but need to advance their skills to the next level.
We’ll typically spend a week conducting 2 to 4 training sessions during that time. Once the training is complete, the students sign a contract with Tools for Opportunity. They agree to use our donated tools and training and their time on projects for their community, in addition to growing their business to provide income for their families. Many of these families survive on only a few dollars a day. We try to help the carpenters increase their income through our training and tool donations.
The board of directors of Tools for Opportunity has established a budgeting goal of $10,000 per trip. As I mentioned before, we often make two trips per year.
You can help by making a tax-deductible donation. We make it easy using the “Donate” buttons on our web page and Facebook page. We appreciate any amount and you can rest assured that your dollars are spent with the utmost care.
We sincerely thank you for your support!
Mauricio lives in Caluco, El Salvador and is one of the first carpenters to receive support from Tools for Opportunity. He is very skillful and has work year round. Many people from all over Caluco – and even from neighboring communities – ask Mauricio for various projects. He is truly a model of Tools for Opportunity’s vision, as he has raised the quality of his work and living standards. He welcomes anyone that wishes to learn carpentry into his shop and is constantly improving the quality of his work. Pictured are two recent doors he made for himself – he recently expanded his home – out of conacaste and cedar.
He has also made wooden garden chairs from pallets. He says these chairs are very popular and people are asking for them.
On December 21, TFO Board President Gene Pedersen and board member Craig Ruegsegger appeared on Great Day Iowa, a program that airs from 6-10am weekdays on KCWI channel 23 in Des Moines. Here’s a link where you can watch the segment.
Our first day at the PALISAL saw mill, the carpenters impressed us with their knowledge, so much so that we got through a day and a half of training in one day! So during our second day, we decided to let them build a router table they could keep. The plans Tools for Opportunity provided are for a table about the size you saw in the previous post. Because they knew they would be using this table, and lumber availability at a saw mill is not a problem, they decided to super-size it to match the table saw around which they gathered to discuss their plan.
As instructor, I had the easiest role of all: stay out of their way. I occasionally answered a question about tool operation, offered safety pointers, or provided a tip on a procedure. They ended up producing a sturdy, useful tool that should serve them for years to come. While I didn’t get a photo of the finished table on my camera, this shot gives you an idea of how big it became!
While the router table was being built, TFO board member Dale Schmitz worked with Soraya Duron, an administrator at the mill, organizing the tools provided by TFO and our donors in the back room of the workshop. On the floor on the left of the second photo, you’ll see the shelves the carpenters built during our training.
After the finishing touches were placed on the router table and the tools stowed, we all gathered in the mill offices. Our newly trained carpenters signed agreements to provide community service, mentor another carpenter, and plant 5 trees.
Discussion followed about opportunities and ideas for future training, and finally, it was back into the van for the drive back to Gracias. Friday was a travel day back to San Salvador. Saturday Gene and I said our goodbyes to the indispensable Guillermo and Isaac, and flew back to Des Moines.
These posts have been called Quick Glimpses because I hope they give a peek into the day-to-day work TFO does in Central America. I hope in my next post to provide some insights to how we are making a difference, and how your support makes it possible.
Wednesday took us about an hour down the highway to the village of Yamaranguila and the PALISAL cooperative sawmill . 40 owner/members operate the mill, processing trees primarily from their own properties.
The coop built a new structure in anticipation of our visit. It served as our training area and will continue to be used as a shop for construction of furniture and other items, using tools provided by generous Tools for Opportunity donors.
Our students at the Colosuca school were in their teens and twenties. Here at PALISAL, we had older students, from their twenties on up. Because they were members of the coop, all had experience working machinery and construction of some sort. Our training introduced them to new tools and methods. One carpenter, Fausto (in the purple shirt, below), had spent a year in the US working construction and in our class stepped into a leadership role that kept the class moving at a brisk pace. Our first task was introducing them to the operation of a portable planer, used to smooth the faces of a board and bring it to a consistent thickness.
However as we fed in the freshly milled lumber, the planer began to struggle to pull the boards through. Gene and I were puzzled. The carpenters persuaded us to use diesel fuel to clean the rollers and cutting knives, removing the pitch and sap that had built up on them, and as a result the planer operated like new (which is good, because it IS new!).
This incident also highlights an issue facing these carpenters. Woodworkers would prefer to have dried lumber to work with; about 10% moisture content is ideal. The wood used in Central America is freshly cut, which means a moisture content of 40% or even more. The wood will dry over time, but it shrinks and often twists as it does. Imagine what happens to a table or chair as wet wood dries. However, the carpenters can’t afford to buy lumber and then let it sit unused for several months while it dries before turning into something they can sell. We discussed the possibility of building solar kilns to help speed drying. This may be an area where Tools for Opportunity can provide assistance in the future.
Back in class, our carpenters absorbed lessons on the use of the Kreg Jig, router table, and table saw. In the photo below Jose Reyes, a skilled hand-tool carpenter, gets his first exposure to a new power tool, the router table. The second photo below shows some of Jose’s handmade molding planes he uses to accomplish the same type of work by hand. Again, plenty of talent here, ready to find new ways to be more productive.
In the next glimpse, a wrap-up of our trip.
After leaving Orlando’s shop in Santo Domingo de Guzman, we began our almost seven hour drive to Gracias, Lempira, Honduras. The next day, Monday, we began our two-day workshop at the Colosuca school. Twelve young men showed up for training, some traveling several hours to be there. The school had prepared a large Continue reading Quick Glimpse 3: Training in Gracias
Over the course of the next few days, I’d like to provide you glimpses into our recent trip to El Salvador and Honduras to train carpenters and follow up with carpenters that Tools for Opportunity has trained on previous trips.
TFO president Gene Pederson and I left dark and early from Des Moines and arrived in San Salvador mid-afternoon. We were greeted by our translator and in-country coordinator Guillermo and our driver Isaac. We immediately loaded into Isaac’s van and headed west along the coast to Acajutla to meet with the Lara family who received tools last year. Here’s a quick video of the table saw and crosscut sled they built with assistance from TFO plans.
The table saw has allowed them to work more quickly and efficiently, two very important items for any business. Gene presented certificates of completion to Julio Lara and three of his sons who work with him, indicating they have met the requirements asked of them in exchange for assistance from TFO, and that the tools we provided were now theirs to keep.
In the next Quick Glimpse, following up with an impressive group of carpenters and their mentor in Santo Domingo de Guzman.
During our recent trip to El Salvador and Honduras, as we followed up with carpenters and trained new ones, whenever we opened up one of the woodworking magazines we packed along, the carpenters would gather round and tell us how much they would love to see more of them. To them, the magazines serve as Continue reading Getting ideas to carpenters: How you can help