York College Carpentry and Joinery students help Caribbean Island of Aruba recover from storm damage
A once-in-a-lifetime experience on the Caribbean island of Aruba was the reward for six York College woodwork students after it was decided their skills dovetailed perfectly with the needs of a local charity.
Yorkshire-based, non-profit organisation Everything Is Possible, with co-funding from the Government’s Turing Scheme programme, arranged for Level 2 and 3 Carpentry and Joinery Diploma students Oulton South, Olly Whalan, Joshua Boyes, Max Willets, Finley Illingworth and Angus Patterson to help carry out essential work with tutors Adam Keene and Jonny Brown during a fortnight-long visit following damage caused by a storm on the island.
The team worked alongside local construction experts in the poorer southern region of the island away from the tourist resorts to repair a collapsed stage and lay down laminate flooring at the Centro di Bario Savaneta community youth centre.
They also erected a roof over playground climbing equipment, whilst other projects included the installation of a large gazebo in the grounds at the island’s base for charity volunteers.
The students worked from 7am to 1pm on all but one of the 14 days they were in Aruba and, with temperatures too hot to continue working into the afternoon, were then free to explore the island and its beautiful beaches.
That leisure time saw them enjoy some genuine once-in-a-lifetime moments including swimming with sea turtles, snorkelling around a World War 2 shipwreck, watching the sunrise over the island whilst enjoying views across to Venezuela from the top of a mountain, a visit to Arikok National Park and being given local dancing and language lessons.
As well as taking it in turns to be foremen, the students also drew up a cooking rota, resulting in varying degrees of success when it came to sitting down together for evening meals!
On the benefits of the project in terms of growing his construction skills and the highlights away from work hours, Olly said: “I remember when I was first told about Aruba and I thought ‘are you being serious?’. So, my expectations were quite high, but it turned out to be even better than I’d hoped.
“It was amazing and I’m so glad and feel really lucky that I was one of the six students chosen to go from everyone that is doing joinery in the college. We all rotated in terms of the work we did and got to do a bit of everything really.
“It’s a great thing to have on my CV and not many people will have gained that actual work experience and the confidence from working with people to get a job completed. I think it has improved our work ethic.
“We also went to a different beach pretty much every afternoon and every one of them was amazing. The water was crystal clear, and you could see fish swimming by your feet.
“Going up the mountain at 5am was really cool because, when you were at the top, you could see the whole island and, when the sun started coming up, Venezuela came into view across the Ocean.”
Olly was also pleased with his culinary efforts in Aruba, adding: “I cooked Beef Teriyaki. I’d not cooked before really – I’d done the dish once before I went as a practice, but I did it with pork and they don’t have pork over there.
“It turned out alright, though, and I’d say it was one of the best meals we had.”
Finley felt less triumphant about his kitchen shift, explaining: “There were two of us that did a pizza, but it was our first time using the oven and we didn’t realise how slow it was, so we left it in too long and it was very crunchy and a bit black. It was horrendous.”
On his more positive memories of Aruba, though, he added: “I enjoyed Aruba a lot and wish I could go back to be honest. It was great to explore the culture - I’ve never been outside of Europe and it’s so different in terms of the food and using a different currency.
“The constant hot weather was also really nice. I would have never imagined getting a chance to do something like this at all when I enrolled on the course and I’m very thankful for the experience to be picked as one of the six students.
“In terms of the projects we were assigned, I contributed quite a lot to the gazebo flooring. One of the days it was just me and one of the locals and we got through it together, which was really good.
“I was using different tools and big machines that I’ve never used before, but I can say that now, if I had to work with them again, I’d be able to do it and it’s crazy the amount I learned out there. There are so many skills that I have acquired in just a couple of weeks that I will be able to use in a job or when I get a new house.”
Recalling the incredible extra-curricular activities, Finley enthused: “The views from the mountain at 5.30am in the morning were amazing. We watched the sun rise and light up the whole village and I’ve never done anything like that.
“The beaches were beautiful as well. I even saw an octopus in the sea, as well as quite a few turtles.”
Max was equally as bowled over by the whole two weeks.
“I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance like this at College,” he confessed. “I thought I’d just be doing my Level 1 and Level 2 and have a standard student College experience.
“I wasn’t expecting this. It was great.
“I’ve never been anywhere where the weather was so nice for two weeks. The country was beautiful.
“I’d always wanted to go to the Caribbean and I’ve never seen anything like it in terms of the beaches. I’ve been to Cyprus before but Aruba was a different level and all the stuff I learnt work-wise I’ll hopefully take with me when I start my own career in the construction industry.
“I hadn’t done anything purely working with timber before, so it was good to get that experience under my belt. It was good to learn about some of the different ways they work over there, too.”
Oulton also returned to these shores, equipped with new knowledge.
“I’ve gained a lot more confidence and I enjoyed laying the laminate flooring, because that’s something I haven’t done before,” he explained. “I never thought just by doing a course at York College I would get an opportunity like this and was surprised when I was offered the chance.”
His talents at breakfast time were appreciated by the group, too.
“I cooked sausage, bacon and eggs three mornings in a row,” he pointed out.
Joshua’s previously untapped cheffing prowess came to the fore as well.
“Me and Jonny the tutor did a Carbonara for everyone and I don’t really cook at home, so it was a good experience to learn that and I think it was the best meal,” he claimed with a grin whilst adding about the project: “It was good to experience working with people I don’t really know well in a different atmosphere.
“It’s obviously a lot different to College over there. It’s a very nice island and it was good to explore it. It’s the furthest I’ve ever travelled.”
On the process of choosing who went to Aruba, Construction tutor Adam said: “We selected six second-year students who we felt would benefit from an overseas experience, as well as being involved in charity projects, as the first group of Construction students to go to Aruba from York College. It was an opportunity for them to practice what they’re learning in College whilst also carrying out work that would benefit the local community over there.
“The stage we worked on had suffered water damage, so it had all gone rotten and mouldy and been infested by termites, but we repaired it from underneath and laid a whole new floor on top. It was for local children to perform on and the students did a really good job on it.”
Adam was also impressed by the group’s work ethic, adding: “We were supposed to have four rests days, but only ended up having one because we didn’t want to leave anything unfinished and that decision was made by the students, so we worked every morning for six hours and then had the afternoons free. We completed all the projects and everybody was really happy with what we’d done.
“As the two weeks went on, you could see how the experience had helped them all develop different skills and how that had a massive impact on their personalities, work ethic and confidence. They were also washing up, making their beds, cooking, cleaning and shopping for provisions and we had to drive around sourcing materials for the projects while working with local people, suppliers, builders and timber yards.
“We were working with different materials at times, too, because of the weather over there and a lot of the timber was treated and slightly different to what we use because of the termites.”
Everything is Possible are a not-for-profit organisation formed 24 years ago that have established a partnership network across more than 25 countries worldwide.
They oversee short and long-term international volunteering opportunities, as well as vocational educational training placements, youth exchanges and summer camps.
The Turing Scheme is a global programme funded by the UK Government for studying, working and living abroad that offers once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for personal and professional development for students.