Construction student uses his skills to help Rwandan villagers

Connor Patterson (wearing the Dench shirt) enjoyed his time in Rwanda
Connor Patterson (wearing the Dench shirt) enjoyed his time in Rwanda

A construction student from New College Lanarkshire’s Motherwell campus has returned from a life-changing journey to Rwanda, where he assisted in the development of a self-sustaining village.

Connor Patterson (18) joined dad Derek, CEO of Coatbridge-based Crane Maintain, and two other members of Airdrie Ebenezer Church on the journey to the village of Rukumberi to continue work that has been ongoing in the village since the church started to sponsor it in 2007.

Established by Scottish charity, Comfort Rwanda, and its partner Solace Ministries, Airdrie Ebenezer Church partnered with the village to help support the recovery of genocide survivors in the country, through orphan care, agricultural support and house building.

They have spent years fundraising to help the projects and have so far helped develop four sustainable houses and plan a clean water filtration system which is currently in progress.

Connor, an NC Built Environment student, completed a pre-apprenticeship course at the Motherwell campus last year before progressing to his current course, and was able to use his construction skills and knowledge to help research, plan and develop sustainable homes.

He said: “My parents have visited the village at Rukemberi many times since the church partnered with it, so having the opportunity to go and see the work that had been done was incredible.

“Our main aim was to make sure that the houses which were previously built by the group were still functional and to carry out any repairs.

“We also wanted to find out what else we could do as the existing houses had an amazing impact on the community.

“It was amazing to see the village. The community had already began repair work on existing houses themselves, using the skills previously learned from when the church members had visited.

“The experience was amazing – not only was I helping other people but it was building my own confidence being able to put what I learned at college into practice.

“It was also amazing seeing how far the village community had come since the church started sponsoring it. From once being a village of deprivation, it had come so far!”

During the visit, the group investigated the new priorities held by the village – more housing, fresh water pumps and repairs on 30 houses.

Connor and the rest of the group commenced repairs to six houses during the week-long visit, and the church is currently fundraising to repair the rest.

They also paid a visit to a local landfill site where they found 17 orphaned/homeless children sleeping.

Unable to comprehend the living conditions the children were living in, the group decided to rescue all 17 kids while they search for sponsors here in Scotland – allowing them to live in a house rented by Comfort Rwanda, with a house mother.

On return from the trip they were informed that the children had all been housed, given medical treatment and were enrolled in school.

Connor said: “I was shocked to see so many children living alone in such deprivation. It was really sad to see after seeing the successes of the village. They were literally living inside the landfill and all were ill with insect bites – one boy even had suspected malaria.

“We reported it straight away to the charity who had organised the visit, and took them straight to the hospital for medical treatment – which cost as little as £10!

“To know that by our small actions, their lives could be changed forever – it amazes me that only £20 per month can change a small child’s life so dramatically.”

Connor now hopes to finish his NC course and progress to Higher National level to enhance his skills and knowledge.

He’s also looking forward to going back to Rwanda in the next year to see what further developments have been made, and continue to put his skills into practice there.

Connor said: “One week wasn’t long enough. I wanted to stay and help as much as I can so, I can’t wait to go back next year in the summer.

“The experience was just amazing and I suppose you could say it has changed the way I look at things a lot. Everyone I met was just so happy and grateful for what they had, it really opened my eyes.”

His lecturer at New College Lanarkshire, John Quinn, was delighted Connor was able to put his skills to practical use.

He said: “What an opportunity to put into practice the skills that our young people are learning on the construction courses available at New College Lanarkshire and helping to improve the lives of people so less fortunate than ourselves.

“Young people get a lot of bad press in today’s society but Connor is a shining example of how the young people in North Lanarkshire can help make a difference even though they are on a different continent.”