Just teaching kids the art of carpentry is not enough for this inspiring teacher and local hero.
Tom Dowds, City College Brighton’s carpentry team leader, has brought the educational mantra of ‘learning by doing’ to new levels.
For the last five years the 59-year-old has been taking group of students to Kenya to build classrooms, kitchens and housing for some of the most vulnerable people in the slum areas of Nakuru, 200km north west of the capital Nairobi.
But the trips are not an all-expenses-paid excuse to catch glimpses of elephants and big cats. Tom and his students tirelessly raise cash for the purchase of building materials through car washing, raffles and quiz nights to mammoth challenges like cycle rides to Paris and marathons.
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The local hero took his volunteering a step further when he worked to get a student visa for Samwel Karanja, a young Kenyan man who helps with the project in Nakuru.
Samwel will stay with Tom’s family and study at city college for a carpentry qualification for six months, with the hope he will lead a project teaching young street children back in his home country.
Tom said: “We want to open up a vocational centre and train the Kenyans in carpentry and building. We will train Samwel to eventually teach other people.
“We hope it will go beyond just giving handouts and eventually help communities in Kenya support themselves by learning from him.
“It all started in 2009 when different companies came to the college to offer gap year trips.
“One firm was doing trips to Africa and my wife and I thought it would be a good idea to take students over there and do some work.
“We took 15 students in the first year and it was a great adventure – they had a marvellous time and had real life changing experiences.
“But in the second year we thought we would cut out the middle man and run it ourselves.
“Since then the students, myself and others have raised about £120k to fund the trips and buy materials for our visits.”
Back in the UK, Tom visits local schools to give talks about Africa and encourages pen-pal services between Kenyan and British schoolchildren.
He and his students are also working with council contractor Mears to renovate empty council properties.
For his efforts Tom was recently shortlisted for the Most Innovative Teacher award from The Times newspaper’s educational supplement awards.
On April 5 he will tackle his biggest challenge yet when he swims a mile at the Prince Regent swimming pool, followed by running the Brighton Marathon the next day and cycling from Brighton to Paris – and back – after that.
The cash raised will be split between the Kenyan fund and City College’s chosen charity, the Rockinghorse children’s charity.
Tom added: “The trips are a real benefit to not only the Kenyans, but to our own students too.”
To donate visit gogetfunding.com/project/kenya-project-2014.