A less conventional way to clock up work experience in the trades? Organise a project yourself. Ben Oge, a construction trainee at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, did just that after witnessing the plight of a single-parent family living in a run-down home in Samoa.

It’s been a full-on year for Ben Oge. Not only did he start learning a trade, he also spearheaded an initiative to restore the home of a family in need in Samoa.

The 39-year-old visited the island of Upolu early this year and felt moved to help improve the housing conditions.

“I got back home and thought, let’s stop talking about it, let’s get something happening.”

With help from friends, whānau, and Christian-based fellowship My Friendship House, Ben organised a group of 14 people to renovate and restore the home of a single mother and her four children in Upolu.

“There’s a personal connection. The house used to belong to my grandmother who has since passed on. I thought I could at least do what I can to help out.”
Community Project in Samoa
Community Project

Connecting with the homeland

The initiative, called Stewards of the Homeland, is something Ben wants to see grow. He’s already planning a second project for early 2018.

“I want to strike while the iron’s hot and keep the momentum going. Then the idea is to set up a charity to help other families in need and maybe even link trade apprenticeships to other opportunities around the Pacific.”

At its heart, Stewards of the Homeland is about not only serving families in need, but also linking New Zealand-born Pacific Islanders to their motherland to strengthen their heritage and sense of identity.

“People on our team are still buzzing about it,” says Ben. “Some of them had never been to the islands before. It’s just a hugely rewarding experience.”

“They all wanted to go over and give to others, and what they received in return was far more than they’d expected.”

community project

Community Project in Samoa

Community Project in Samoa

 

Taking opportunities

Ben, a New Zealand-born Samoan whose mother is from Samauga, Savai’i and his father from Lepea, Upolu, had spent years working as a designer before deciding to add construction skills to his toolbelt.

“Building’s one of those things I’ve always wanted to try out, and I thought ‘why not?’ – especially with the way construction is booming at the moment. There’s no shortage of opportunities.”

He began training at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa in March and is enjoying building his skills.

“It’s been good; there’s lots to learn. I feel much more confident now, knowing what the process is in building a house. There’s been a good balance between the textbook stuff and the practical, hands-on stuff where you actually get on the tools.”

Ben, who still finds time to freelance as a designer, was grateful to get an MPTT scholarship to cover his course fees.

“It was a bit of a no-brainer really – it’s such an awesome opportunity. When I think about the trades, there are so many great opportunities. You’ve just got to grab them with both hands and go for it.”

Moving forward

With much of the first Stewards of the Homeland trip being self-funded by the team, Ben is working on ways to raise money for the group’s next mission.

He’s created a clothing brand called Parcel 59 – named after the plot of land where the first project took place – to help fund the initiative. The proceeds will fund Stewards of the Homeland’s future projects.

Once the dates of the next project have been confirmed, Ben will turn his attention towards promoting the cause.

“I’m just trying to get my head around it again. It’s about trying to balance the project with school, work and other commitments.”

For now, Ben and his team are happy to have achieved their initial goal.

“The idea of Stewards of the Homeland is to offer practical help in one home, one village – until we get to the stage where we can do a lot more,” says Ben. “Everything starts from home.”

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