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Apprentice uses skills to give back in the Philippines

Posted Wednesday 8th March 2017

Becoming a tradie is both tough and rewarding. Apprentices learn very quickly that they will need to work hard, often in harsh conditions. But in the long run, the skills they develop early on help them throughout the rest of their life. For Ben Cocker, learning a trade has not only benefitted him, but also allowed him to give back to those in need in a meaningful way.

Along with a group of volunteer tradespeople from Gateway Baptist Church, in partnership with Bloom Asia, 22-year-old carpentry apprentice Ben travelled to Cebu City in the Philippines to help build a facility designed for struggling youth.

“They find underprivileged girls over there who are struggling with work and socially. They take them in on a program and the girls learn how to bake cakes and do all the icing and sugar work. They teach them how to work in a café, and that brings in some income,” Ben said.

The Filipino culture was completely different to anything Ben had experienced, as in many cases every member of the family is expected to work, including children.

“Over there, it’s about the money you can bring back to your family. It’s nuts, it’s completely different. I can’t even imagine that happening here.”

Ben said he came back with a real appreciation for some of the more basic things we take for granted in Australia.

“Time is not a currency over there. It’s funny with us Westerners, we spent a whole day getting materials and we were stressing. I never thought I’d appreciate Bunnings so much when I got back. Even getting deliveries, over here you can get most things within two hours. Over there it’s like, ‘Maybe I can fit you in, on a Saturday’.”

The group spent three weeks in Cebu City to complete the facility, usually working 12-hour-days to make the most of the limited time they had. The team was made up of a tiler, a plasterer, two other carpenters, two electricians, a labourer and two internal designers. Ben was also able to work as a plumber, after already completing a plumbing apprenticeship. He said the team made a real difference in a short amount of time.

“We were talking to a local guy over there who owned a carpentry business. He reckons the work we did over there in three weeks, it would’ve taken them nearly a year,” Ben said.

“Stuff over there happens so slowly, they just cruise. Even mixing cement, they’ll get a truckload of gravel dropped off and have to mix it by hand. That third-world view really opens your eyes up.”

Ben’s Blue Dog trainer, Dan Fullarton, said the time Ben spent overseas would massively improve his skills as a carpenter.

“It definitely says something about his character. If I’m a client looking for a good carpenter, I want someone who is willing to go the extra mile for others, which is exactly what he’s done. The fact that he did it out of his own pocket makes it that bit more impressive.”

While there were challenges to overcome in Cebu City, the group was happy with the work they got done, and are looking to head back at the start of 2018 to continue improving the lives of people in the area. Ben said it was all worthwhile when seeing the girls shown through the new facility.

"It was for a great cause. If we're not on earth to help someone out, then why are we here?"

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