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Build up a Metalworker and Welding section
Thursday, 01 September 2011 Written by Monika König & Bernhard Liesemann

Build up a Metalworker and Welding sectionEducational Holiday in Rwanda - was the title of an article in a German newspaper last autumn. A school in Rwanda needed help to establish a metalworking and welding program. Monika Koenig from Leverkusen, Germany and Bernhard Liesemann from Wadersloh, accepted the challenge and spent this year’s vacation in in Kivumu. They would like to share their story.

After arriving in Rwanda near the beginning of August we started to make an educational plan for the welders and metalworkers. Paralleling our work, a Canadian teacher working together with Monika, will be delivering mathematics course. They will be teaching the Rwandan instructors basic mathematics in English. This will be combined with practical exercises in math and measurement. Later the instructors can teach their students how to calculate amounts and costs of materials; a skill that is essential should they want to start their own business in the future.

Rwanda imports all its steel from China and the quality is often not the best

In Rwanda it is very hard to get supplies and material as compared to Germany. We had many problems finding good quality materials suitable for the educational needs of the students. Here it is normal to build things with 1.5mm (1/16”) walled steel tubes, especially for fabricating windows and doors for the houses. This material is not the best way to start with arc welding. The students first need to get a feeling for welding and therefore we needed thicker material than 1.5mm. Without developing the feel you immediately burn a hole in the thinner material.

We drive with Ivica to all the large metal and tools shops in Kigali. We finally found a shop where they sold more than thin-walled profiles and we bought T-channel and 8mm (1/4”) flat steel (for sawing and filing exercises), along with a few lengths of angle iron and I-Beams. The angel iron and I-Beams will be used to construct to welding table.

Before we arrived, all the welding and bench exercise work had been doing on very uneven and holed-filled tables so we needed to start building a proper welding table. However, when building such a table in Rwanda the obstacles are many: it must be built with the available materials; it must be portable so it can be put in the storage area at the end of the day, and it must be strong and rigid. We also needed a minimum of three workplaces since we have three welding machines.

We have now started on the fabrication of two sturdy steel horses with adjustable legs that will be connected with I-beams. This way a person can screw or clamp the I-beams on the steel horses and it will be comfortable to work on as you have many different choices as to table height. The welder’s workbench is 1.45 m x 1.90 m so four students should be able to weld at the same time. The welding table design is flexible and it can also be used to weld doors and windows. The ability to weld precise and complex angles also will now be available. We bought enough material so that the instructors can build a second workbench in the future.

When we arrived, the vices for metal preparation were bolted on old wooden workbenches. Some of the vises broke last semester and had to be replaced. Ivica bought 3 new good quality vices and we installed them before the new semester began. We also bought a small drill press and now are able to drill accurately. The old wooden workbenches will be replaced by the carpentry section in the future. An instructor from Canada worked with the school’s carpentry instructors over the last three weeks and designed a couple of workbenches, one of which has no vises. This design will form the base for the metalworker’s workbenches. Fortunately they can use the strong and cheap locally available cypress wood. The durability and quality is similar to that of oak.

A big problem in Rwanda is obtaining the quantities of nuts and bolts necessary for a complete education in the metal sector. Fortunately we found a shop that sells one metre lengths of threaded rod and nuts and washers. Now we can build the bolts ourselves very quickly and can easily customize the length. When making any purchase an important consideration for us is the ease of replacing the supplies by the school’s staff. Where possible we shop in the main city of Kigali or preferably, Gitarama approximately 8 km away.

The new education program for the metalworkers is based on the school’s carpentry program. Many of the theoretical basics are similar, for example math and technical drawing. The program is orientated towards meeting international standards with some information from Canadian and German textbooks. We make decisions as to what are the most important components. You cannot just put the complete contents of an education program from the western world into a program to be used here. In western countries students have a sound educational base derived from 12 years of general studies; in Rwanda it is only six years.

For this reason we have put only the most important things in the program and this information is combined with a lot of self-explanatory pictures. We also have referenced the entire course outline to information in English language textbooks that is readily available in the well-organized school library. Furthermore you have to consider that the transition from French to English as the business language is just beginning. English is not yet widely spoken here in Ruanda and the instructors and students often have problems even to understand basic English. Add to this the fact that welding programs in Rwanda usually take only one year and that a minimum of three years is normal in the European and North American countries.

So we have to wait and see what the future holds. Time will tell if the educational programs work well. It is the start of a good technical education program in Kivumu and hopefully after some inevitable adjustments it will work well. We look forward to the future.

Translated from German by Doug Shaw

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