The high school students gather in a large shipping container behind the school and take turns putting up insulation inside, cutting the material and putting it up on the walls. They are learning home improvement skills that will serve them well in the future.
And, in the process, they are helping those in need.
The students are working on a project through their home improvement class to create a medical center out of a shipping container to be sent to Uganda through Homes of Living Hope.
“In the past, we had platforms to show how to build things,” said Leonard Herman, supervisor for business and industrial technology at the Bridgewater-Raritan High School. “This has the purpose of teaching a humanitarian side, and this is service to something other than ourselves.”
This project through Homes of Living Hope came from a desire to create a home improvement project that students could be proud of and would last. Homes of Living Hope converts recycled shipping containers into livable and functional structures for needy communities.
These containers are turned into clinics, shelters and educational facilities, then put together into quads once they are sent over to Uganda.
Currently, the about 100 students involved in the program are working on creating a medical center in their first project, and Herman said they are hoping to move to creating two different containers to send to Uganda each year.
“This is a finished project that the kids can do by themselves,” said Mark Dubyna, business and industrial technology teacher, who is running the project. “This is an opportunity to build something rather than having a demonstration.”
And the students said they are excited to have this opportunity to help.
“It is great to be able to make a difference,” said senior Tom Friar. “This is a class where we can apply work to other things later in life.”
Senior Tom Chong said this class working on the project is like a break.
“This is work that is making a difference,” he said. “I took this class as a little break and a place to get real-world skills.”
Herman said they are hoping to finish this first medical center by the end of the year.
“Ultimately we will do all four for the quad,” he said. “We hope we will be using money through grants and donations.”
And at this point, the school is well on its way to having the donations it needs through help from local businesses and the rest of the district.
The shipping container itself was donated by Atlantic Container Line, and Herman said he is hoping for more donations for future projects.
Herman said Valeant Pharmaceuticals International has also volunteered to work as a sponsor for the project with a donation of $5,000, and material donations have come from such businesses as Home Depot, Window World of Central New Jersey and James T. Markey LLC Home Remodeling, among others.
Plus, Herman said, the entire district has gotten involved in the project.
The kindergarten through fourth grade music programs, Herman said, will be fundraising during their spring concerts, and the art teacher at Eisenhower Intermediate School will be designing a mural on the container.
In addition, Herman said, the Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School choral teacher is working on donating a sound system for the medical center.
“When people go for medical attention there, it is life-threatening situations,” he said. “We want to make it less stressful with music.”
And students at the high school, Herman said, are working on artwork for the container, while technology students have built the program’s website.
“We want to get the kids involved in getting donations, and we are trying to get to a point where we know we can get this program done,” he said. “We are at the point where we are looking at pharmaceuticals, and still working on sponsors and donations.”
Chong said the classes are also planning to do some fundraising, selling bagels before school and hosting other events to raise money.
As the work continues, Dubyna said, they are already looking to next year when they hope to build the educational facility.
The students have really gotten into the process, as they are currently putting up insulation inside the container, and have begun working on the plumbing. They will also insert the doors in the container, but the windows will be put in by a team in Uganda that will put the final touches once the container is sent there.
“Originally the kids were looking at the project and wondering how they were going to do it,” Herman said. “Now they see it, and for some, their living room is bigger than the trailer. There’s a lot of empathy out there.”
“Besides the lessons in home improvement, we hope the kids are seeing that they're helping others,” Dubyna added. “The world is much bigger than what we have here.”
Friar said he was excited about the prospect of this project to provide stability for residents of Uganda who don’t normally have it.
And Chong said he believes this is just a chance to do some good, while also learning simple skills like installing sinks, fixing plumbing and insulating a basic frame of a room.
“This is an opportunity to do good work everyday,” he said.
Once the container is sent over to Uganda, Herman said, a team puts the rest together, and they send a video back to the students to see the completed project.
Dubyna said he is proud of the work being done.
“I didn’t imagine this program would be district-wide,” he said. “We originally wanted the container so we had a structure to work with for the lessons.”
Herman said this has been a nice partnership.
“Everyone is hurting in this economy,” he said. “As students come to the school, hopefully they will ask how they can get involved.”
Plus, Herman said, besides the lesson in humanitarian efforts, the students are getting an understanding about different cultures.
“This is cross-cultural, and allows the information to be integrated at various levels,” he said. “Hopefully we can expose those kids to what they don’t know exists.”