As she hammers in a nail or pours cement into a block mould for a new double classroom, Toupongi Isaac might seem an unusual girl to some observers. But sixteen year old Toupongi is equipping herself for life by enrolling in a building and construction course at Uluveu Rural Training Centre in the Maskelynes Islands off southern Malakula. Theory is important at Uluveu RTC but acquiring practical skills useful for life in rural areas is Uluveu’s main goal. Soon Toupongi will gain further practical skills as she learns chain saw use, safety and maintenance as well as more about building techniques by building a classroom for Uluveu.

The Australian Government funded TVET Sector Strengthening Program has made the gaining of practical skills easier for Uluveu’s students with the donation of 160,000vt through the Quality Fund, a small grants fund aimed at improving the quality of technical skills training in Vanuatu. The grant for Uluveu RTC will be used to purchase a chain saw, safety equipment, one tonne of cement and paint – all to be used to complete a new classroom.

“The equipment will let us cut our own timber which we will use to train students in how to make furniture to sell. But we will also use some timber to complete construction of our new half-finished, double classroom block and to make classroom furniture. The cement will be used to make blocks and the paint will finish off the new building,” explained Caleb Issaac, member of the Uluveu RTC Management Committee as he accepted the cheque from Margaret Macfarlane, Team Leader of the TVET Program. “And as we cut the timber, make the furniture and build the classroom, it is our students who are doing the work and learning new skills at the same time.”

“I addressed our RTC students recently and told them of the story of Simeon Nali, an ex Uluveu student. He is now only 21 years old. He graduated from here, went home to Epi and set up his own small business. Simeon built himself a block house, opened a small store and recently bought a fibreglass canoe. I tell them – see, this is what you can do by getting practical skills and returning to your rural community.”

Already the word is out that graduates from Uluveu are returning to their villages with knowledge and skills that they can put to good use to improve the quality of life for themselves, their family and the community as a whole. Uluveu trainers point out that past students including girls like Toupongi, have returned home and set up small businesses building block houses, making furniture and fibre glass tanks. Because of this reputation for practical, useful skills acquisition, students are coming to Uluveu from all over Vanuatu – Torres, Banks, Tanna, Epi, Paama, Ambrym and of course, Malakula and the Maskelyne Islands.

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