Saturday, 9 May 2009

Vocational Training in Mayo: an eye-opener.

Over the past couple weeks I have been visiting a Sudanese charity called “Together for Sudan”. I originally got in contact with them because they provide university scholarships to women from less economically developed parts of the country.  I was very frustrated with my original sample of university graduates, as there was little diversity. I was trying to cast my net wider (but in a very timid way)…

This week, Together for Sudan took me to Mayo, an area on the edge of Khartoum to see a vocational training centre they help run. I suppose it was a chance to see “how the other half live”.  I had heard a lot about the area: ”it is dangerous”, “it is where people from the South live”, “be careful there!” so I was curious to see it for myself. I had been there once before, sort of by accident (an unexpected bus turn led to a whole new landscape and a very puzzled Laura) but at the time, I didn’t really get “deep” into the neighborhood. This was my chance.

The vocational centre is run by St. Vincents and has a strong relationship with a local church. They offer electrical engineering classes, computer literacy classes and a “refrigerator” unit to train people how to fix refrigerators (obviously very important in Sudan!).  After the training, graduates go out into the world to find their own jobs (handymen have an interesting way of getting employment of which I will write another post about one day).

This is apparently what the inside of a refrigerator looks like.

The centre also runs health training for predominantly female groups. This is the project that Together for Sudan funds. The current health class is about to graduate in a week: 90 women, 10 men (the men were all at the back and seemed curiously quiet amidst the female majority). They will now move on to the hospital part of the program and after that, employment (insh’allah)! The students come from all over Sudan, ranging from Southern Sudan, the Nuba Mountains, Darfur and the East. They are a variety of ages, from 16 to the ambiguously described “old” (The women at the back of the class were described as “old” but they didn’t look particularly old to me; they did however, look more “reserved” I was instructed to take a separate photo of them).

The not so elderly "elderly" at the back of the class.

It was a funny situation. I wasn’t entirely sure why I had been placed in front of the class (100 eyes staring at me, inquisitively) and it was obvious that the students weren’t entirely sure what I was doing there either. I suppose Together for Sudan was proud of their program and wanted me to see it with my own eyes. And I can understand why. The room was full of positivity. The teacher was very charismatic and it was clear that the students liked him and respected him a great deal.

The teacher.

Victor, my friend from Together for Sudan (and the one who organized the trip) asked me if I had any questions for them and (after a brief panic of “shit, I have to speak Arabic in front of 100 people?”) I managed to get into the swing and ask them some questions. They in turn got to ask me questions.

You know, I have gotten so obsessed with university graduates that I have really closed my eyes to the other routes to employment. Of course, I see people from a variety of different backgrounds every day in the street, in offices, on the bus and even living next-door to me, but just getting the chance to talk to aspirational young people trying to acquire some training to get ahead in the job market, it was a real eye-opener. I am planning on going back to visit them after their training at the hospital to see how they get on in finding jobs. Some of them said that they had friends who did the same course who are now working, so this is a good sign.

I suppose what the trip really did was widen my scope. I have become totally obsessed with “focusing my research”. From “trust in the economy” to “getting a job” to “getting a job after university” to “getting a job after graduation from the University of Khartoum’s engineering department in 2007” that I almost have nightmares about it. I have become short sighted- staring shyly from my own self-imposed spectacles. That is the tricky thing about research: knowing where to draw the line and realizing when you have drawn it too tightly. I am now trying to re-draw that line.

I shouldn't forget that my project is ultimately about trust and social mobility; whether people are able to transcend whatever their social class, ethnic group or geographical origin to become part of a “Sudanese labour market” (if there is such a thing) and whether or not the economy is moving in such a way as to encourage less personal routes to employment. Lately I have realized that I don’t just need to look at different sectors (private, foreign, government) but also different fields as well. Some fields are clearly more accessible than others for “outsiders”. The trick is to find a way to compare and contrast between fields without comparing apples and well, guavas.

From now on, I resolve myself to be more open-minded about my research participants, more creative in my methods and more persistent in my gathering of contacts. Insh'allah...

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