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Posts Tagged ‘skills’

Photo: John Campbell via CSM.
“This spring,” says the
Christian Science Monitor, “two groups of Sterling College students spent time at instructor John Campbell’s shop, Alpine Luddites, learning how to design backpacks and operate industrial-grade sewing machines.”

I never cease to be amazed by the great variety of careers out there, some of which are careers that individuals create for themselves. Consider mountain climber John Campbell, who has learned survival skills outdoors the hard way and now shares them with others, often indoors.

Gareth Henderson reported for the Christian Science Monitor on his work.

“After scaling the heights of the Andes, Alps, and northern Rockies, John Campbell understands the importance of proper outdoor gear – and he’s eager to share that knowledge.

“This spring, he taught college students in Vermont the finer points of backpack fixing – and even how to make their own product from scratch. That’s a big advantage for those pursuing outdoor careers, because it’s rarer than one might think, Mr. Campbell says.

“As recently as the 1990s, many outdoor brands in the United States sewed their products locally. But Mr. Campbell, who runs his own gear business, says that’s not the case anymore, and he wants to pass along how it’s done. 

‘These are just good skills to have,’ he says.

“Mr. Campbell is one of three instructors for the first gear design and repair course at Sterling College, in Craftsbury Common, Vermont. The scenic college, about 40 minutes from the Canadian border, has long focused on the environment and sustainability. The new design class has the potential, say the instructors and those in the industry, to not only help students be better prepared for surviving in the wild, but also expand both local gear manufacturing and an understanding of the design process overall.

“ ‘Everything – and I do mean everything – is designed and developed the same way: through a series of steps that visualize, confirm, and then create,’ says Kurt Gray, who runs the design and product operation at Jagged Edge Mountain Gear in Telluride, Colorado. ‘The major benefit to the community,’ he adds, ‘is teaching young people how to realize their dreams through the rigors of meticulous planning and application of skill.’ …

“Mr. Campbell started by introducing students to his business, Alpine Luddites, in Westmore, Vermont. Students – in two groups of five due to pandemic protocols – trained on three large, industrial-grade sewing machines. Each group created its own backpack design, and from there individuals made their own packs, which they personalized with smaller parts, like daisy chains (the bumpy strips on the sides of packs), pockets, clips, and straps. …

“When the students weren’t at Mr. Campbell’s shop, they were honing their new skills on the nearby 130-acre Sterling campus in Craftsbury Common, a village in the town of Craftsbury, where experiential outdoor learning has been in place for five decades.

“Josh Bossin, one of the outdoor education faculty, organized the course and taught the ins and outs of repair and gear history. At his request, the college community dropped off all kinds of outdoor gear for the students to fix.

” ‘This allows us to support our community [with] keeping things out of the landfill, and at the same time, gives my students a chance to do real-life repairs and feel the impact it has with a real “customer,” ‘ says Mr. Bossin. …

“Having more students learn the skills the class is offering, Mr. Campbell says, could help bring back some manufacturing jobs that were lost years ago. … 

“Prin Van Gulden focused on participants mastering fundamentals like sewing in her part of the course, including a range of techniques for making repairs by hand. ‘My goal is for students to gain confidence and competence with the basics,’ says Ms. Van Gulden, an adjunct faculty member in the area of environmental humanities. ‘I want them to feel undaunted, to feel empowered to deal with problems as they come up.’ …

“Tyler Kheang, a student from Philadelphia, would like to use what he’s learned to get others interested in the outdoors. ‘For me personally, I want to get more minorities into the outdoor setting,’ he says.

“These skills save money, he says, as you can repair old gear rather than buying new. And anyone can learn it, he adds. ‘It takes away that financial factor and makes an opportunity for everyone to be equal,’ he says. ‘A lot of people back where I’m from don’t have a lot of money to buy expensive things.’ “

More at the Monitor, here.

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Photo: Samuel Derbyshire
Kenyan tribesman Ewar Kulany making a Turkana ekichielong stool/headrest.

Whether we know it or not, we’re always passing down family customs, sayings, songs, crafts, and more to the next generation. Sometimes I’m a bit sad that I stopped singing songs in the car as an adult, because there are a ton of old nursery rhymes and folk songs from my childhood that my kids never learned. One time my youngest brother said to them, “Does your mother still sing in the car?” and they had no idea what he meant.

I’ve blogged before about efforts to preserve marginalized languages, and any similar initiative gets my attention. Consider this story on preserving artisan techniques in danger of dying out.

Gareth Harris writes at the Arts Newspaper, “Centuries-old practices and traditions across communities worldwide that might be lost forever — from beekeeping in Kenya to creating the Dalai Lama’s clothes — are being quietly supported and documented online through the British Museum’s Endangered Material Knowledge Programme (EMKP).

“The scheme, launched in 2018, has been boosted by an [$11.7 million] grant awarded by Arcadia, a charitable fund founded by the philanthropists Peter Baldwin and Lisbet Rausing; the cash injection means the project has been extended for seven years (2021-28). …

“ ‘Locally informed knowledge is in danger of being lost — knowledge that has helped communities thrive in unique environmental, social and cultural contexts,’ says a statement from the British Museum. …

” ‘We are offering communities the resources to record themselves; that is so powerful. It’s a form of auto ethnography as such,’ says Ceri Ashley, the head of EMKP.

“ ‘Once this material has been collated, it is uploaded onto an open access digital database hosted by the British Museum, and a digital copy is also shared with a partner in the country of work so that it remains close to the community whose cultural heritage it represents,’ say museum officials. …

“This year’s supported schemes include a survey of the skills of Venerable Phuntsok Tsering, the Dalai Lama’s personal tailor. ‘Since 1959, he has been responsible for (re)constructing the tailoring requirements of the Dalai Lama in exile. He rebuilt the ceremonial wardrobe left behind in Tibet and developed new garments for use in the unfamiliar environmental and cultural conditions of India. Despite this singularity his practice has never been documented,’ says an online statement.

“Ashley points out that the EMKP team, working primarily online, has worked throughout lockdown, collaborating with an international advisory panel to review and select the next round of grants. …

“Another 2020 project focuses on the manufacture of Ostrich eggshell beads among the El Molo Community in Kenya, capturing their making and use through audio files, video clips and field notes.

“Last year, the EMKP recorded the dwindling practice of beekeeping amongst the Sengwer communities living in the Embobut Forest in western Kenya. ‘Some projects celebrate the everyday, which is so important,’ says Ashley, referring to a 2019 analysis of the traditional natural broom and fibre rope crafts of the Urhobo people of Nigeria.

“Applications are now open for the 2021 round of funding (deadline for applications is 31 January 2021). Instructions online stress that prospective candidates should ‘consider the viability and ethics of conducting this work within the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.’ ” Read more at the Art Newspaper, here.

The Kenya beekeeping reference makes me think of a wonderful documentary, Honeyland, about an isolated beekeeper in rural Macedonia. Do watch it if you get a chance. I hope her techniques are being preserved, too.

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Photo: Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff
Breaktime Café cofounders Tony Shu (left) and Connor Schoen hosting a kickoff launch party in Boston for a nonprofit that helps homeless youth learn job skills.

Not sure why so many recent posts have had a food angle. I’ve certainly been drawn to stories about food. In this article, a couple young guys who volunteered with homeless youth saw a way to help them move beyond homelessness with a bit of skills training and lots of moral support.

Back in December, as Max Jungreis wrote at the Boston Globe, the nonprofit was just getting set up.

Breaktime Cafe doesn’t look like much. It’s 1,500 square feet of typical office space on Portland Street, with gray carpeting, off-white walls, and tables shoved into corners. But by the time the cafe opens in the spring, its founders hope to transform the office into a resource for Boston’s homeless youth.

“The opening will mark a major expansion of a six-month pilot program founded last year by a pair of Harvard University undergraduates. It offered a handful of homeless youth on-the-job training as baristas, with the goal of bringing them into the workforce and out of homelessness. …

“The plan is to employ up to 15 homeless youth at a time. They’ll serve sandwiches, seasonal drinks, and coffee made from ethically sourced beans. That will be triple the number served in the pilot program, and a small but meaningful chunk of the estimated 325 people between the ages of 18 and 24 who were sleeping in Boston’s shelters and streets in January.

“Schoen said Breaktime has raised about $145,000, with much of the money coming from corporate sponsors and charitable trusts, such as Cambridge Trust and the Harnisch Foundation. He said the cafe also has attracted hundreds of individual donations through crowdfunding campaigns. Donated legal advice, accounting, and other services have helped defray costs. …

“Employees will earn $15 to $18 an hour. Aside from learning how to brew coffee, Schoen and Shu want to teach them financial literacy and professional skills, like writing a resume, personal budgeting, and interview techniques. Part of that will come through one-on-one mentorships with professionals from the cafe’s sponsors, many which are financial institutions like BlackRock and Eastern Bank.

“The cafe will occupy ground-floor space at 170 Portland St. Shu and Breaktime cofounder Connor Schoen, 21, are renting it from Community Work Services, the local branch of the national job-training nonprofit Fedcap, at a ‘very competitive rate,’ Schoen said. …

“The project dates to when Schoen and Shu met as volunteers at Y2Y Harvard Square, a homeless youth shelter run by Harvard students. Shu was inspired to volunteer by his mother, who as a young immigrant to Kansas from China often slept in her car.

‘I knew that it was my duty and my opportunity to use the skills and the resources that I have in front of me in order to pay it forward,’ Shu said. …

“[Schoen] learned that up to 40 percent of homeless adults identify as LGBTQ, according to one study.

“ ‘It just immediately became something I was really passionate about, and indignant about,’ Schoen said. ‘The fact that people are being kicked out of their homes for just coming out just doesn’t make any sense to me.’

“The two men realized that for many struggling young people trying to gain a foothold, there is a tricky period between the end of a work-training program and when they land a paying job.

“ ‘[Where] do they go after that to bridge them to the broader work force and sustainable careers?’ Shu said. ‘That’s what Breaktime does.’

“The business partners, who plan to run the cafe full time after graduating, impressed Brittany Butler, who runs the Harvard Kennedy School’s Social Innovation and Change Initiative, a student mentorship program that birthed Breaktime’s pilot. …

“Erica Grube-Grumt, 26, who graduated from the pilot program in March 2019 and now serves in the Navy — as well as on the new cafe’s advisory board — said it helped to build her self-confidence.

“ ‘A lot of people who are homeless, they feel unheard,’ Grube-Grumt said. ‘They feel like they’re in their own little corner on the street just begging for change, or begging for something to change. To finally be able to step on the pedestal and tell people what it’s like firsthand . . . can really make a provocative change.’ ”

More at the Globe, here.

You may also be interested to read about Land of a Thousand Hills in Lynn and Breaking Grounds (“changing lives one cup at a time”) in Peabody, doing similar work with young people and people with disabilities.

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I’m beginning to think that this period of history will come to be known as one of enormous creativity. It’s not just isolated incidents. I was working on the upbeat story below and skipping back and forth to Facebook, where each sign from the marches and each costume seemed to outdo the last — and where I saw women on the US-Mexico border weaving their hair together Friday — when it hit me. One and one and 50 have already made a million. And there is no sign of stopping.

The story I wanted to share is on a creative effort to help refugees, this time in the Netherlands.

Liz Alderman described it at the NY Times.

“Mahmoud al-Omar leaned over a sewing machine in the basement of a former prison being used to house refugees and began stitching jeans for a popular clothing line. With more than 15 years experience as a tailor in Syria, he zipped through one pair and moved on to another, methodically filling a small order.

“The job, set up by a Dutch organization that matches refugees with work opportunities, is only temporary. Yet after Mr. Omar fled his war-torn hometown, Aleppo, two years ago, just having a place to go each day felt like a salvation.

“ ‘Working is completely necessary to speed up integration,’ said Mr. Omar, 28, who still struggles to speak Dutch, hindering his chances of a full-time job. ‘I want to become independent as soon as possible, so I can start giving back to the country that took me in.’

“When more than one million men, women and children streamed into Europe last year to seek a haven from conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa, governments viewed the labor market as the quickest path to absorb newcomers. The sooner people started working, the thinking went, the faster they could get off government aid and start contributing to the economy.

“Yet permanent jobs have proven elusive. The lack of language is a big barrier, as is a skills mismatch. Some refugees do not have the right experience, while others cannot get their professional qualifications or degrees recognized.

“Private initiatives have sprung up across Europe to help. The Refugee Company, the Dutch group that steered Mr. Omar toward work, is one of scores guiding refugees into professional networks and opportunities to improve employability.” More here.

From the company’s About page: “Our mission is to empower refugees. We believe work is the best tool to integration; through work, refugees can blend in with their society and build up a new meaningful life in The Netherlands. We speed up integration by providing opportunities for newcomers upon arrival to utilize their talents again. …

“We decided Refugee Company will focus on craftsmanship. We provide work opportunities in the creation and hospitality sector, as that is where our roots lie. We see a growing demand for craftsmen and horeca [Hotel/Restaurant/Café] staff in the Netherlands.” More.

The Providence Granola Project does something similar in Rhode Island, though on a smaller scale. Language is definitely a barrier, so if you have always liked explaining English to people, consider volunteering near your home.

Photo: The Refugee Company

 

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Readers know I’m a fan of the Providence Granola Project, a social enterprise that, by training refugees to make a product, acclimates them to US employment norms and aids their transition to self-sufficiency.

Recently, the organization produced an annual report that explained how it developed a different sort of model for small business, a model they hope others will use or adapt.

Founder Keith Cooper says, “The Providence Granola Project started as an experiment to explore what might help refugees enter the job market. Building a small business seemed like a logical place to start. But what a revelation it has been to discover how nearly every aspect of a small business—from capital to product—can serve a higher purpose.”

The organization’s Big Idea tweaks all the traditional elements of a business.

New hires: workers who are the least prepared, workers the training could really help.

Customers: frequently people who not only like granola but share the mission.

Investors: people whose desired return on investment is the ability to benefit immigrants on their path to becoming contributing members of their new nation.

Work: “repurposed as hands-on education. Making granola is transformed into an experiential classroom.”

Products: delicious foods that are simultaneously tools for raising awareness.

Check out the remarkable variety of granola flavors, granola bars and snacking nuts at the website. You can also sign up for a Granola of the Month package here if you’re up for giving this worthy cause a bit more predictability about resources.

Infographic: Providence Granola Project

Our Big Idea

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