Friday, April 18, 2008

Lesson Learned

When Jim Cunliffe was a Peace Corps volunteer in Nigeria back in 1964—42 years before coming to GreeneLand to transform a Civil War-era factory into luxury lofts--he was seized with the idea of starting a school for would-be auto mechanics. Such a school would meet an acute local need, he reasoned, and it would be a great way of utilizing his training as an engineer.

So Jim proceeded to line up a building (gathered from the UK Crown Agencies) and the necessary equipment. Among the tools he gathered, from the residue of the British Empire days, were an old Oxy-Acetylene torch that took blocks of solid Acetylene and mixed with water to create gas, and a hand pump. As soon as he had enough equipment, he put out the word that training in automotive repair was available in Enugu, free.

No response.

Before giving up on the project, after five months, Jim had a conversation with Wem and Chikwendu, the two boys who were helping to clean the shop. “Why,” he asked, “is nobody coming? This training is something they need and it’s free.”

Wem answered his question with a question: “What do you want?”

It took some time, Jim recalled to Seeing Greene, but finally he realized that the boys were saying that everybody thought there must be something insidious--political, religious, self-serving--behind this offer of “free” schooling. Armed with that insight, Jim decided to change the terms of his offer. He sent out word that a three-month course of training in automotive repair was available for the equivalent of $US50 per student. That price equaled what a trained mechanic could earn in a month.

Once the new offer got to be known, Jim recalls, “a stream of students started the course. Within weeks it turned into a flood.”

“We enlarged the curriculum, to include heavy and industrial equipment mechanics. The system soon was running twenty-four hours a day, six days a week.

“After two more years the school became the foundation of the Insuku Technical University of Nigeria.

“Even today, more than forty years later, I meet sons and daughters of students who went to the school. They are engineers and mechanics working and living all over the world.”

As for Jim, his Peace Corps experience paved the way for a career devoted to building hospitals and other structures with local partners all over the Middle East.


TOMORROW (Saturday, 4/19/08) brings, among other things, a chance to learn how to live a greener life in GreeneLand. At the Agroforestry Resources Center in Acra, Cornell Co-operative Extension sages conduct a two-hour Earth Day workshop on that subject. (518)622-9820. Later in the day, starting at about 6pm, comes a bountifully balmy Saturday Studios event in Catskill. Fanciful abstracts, new Milbourns, and sculptures by the renowned Lubomir Tomaszewski occupy The M gallery (350 Main). Four New York City artists dwell on “Ado/Obsolescence”—transitions from youth to adulthood--at Gallery 384. Works curated by act Cairo sculptor, Ron Tunison, greet visitors to the Arts Council’s ground floor gallery, while food-focused paintings by Gary Shankman occupy the Upstairs Gallery (#398). Playful drawings, ceramics, and found-art objects festoon The Open (#400). Still farther up Main Street, Rudie Berkhout’s amazing lazers illuminate—and do at lot more—Play of Light, while just next door (at #462), six artists contribute to a show that Patrick Terenchin calls “Paper Products.”

MONDAY is the deadline in several GreeneLand districts for filing petitions to be put on the ballot for election to School Board seats.

DEFERRED, to an indefinite future date: The Artists’ Ledge condominium building project that was proposed, and approved officially, for the creekside area of Route 9A, where Tatiana’s Restaurant currently sits. Will there be more postponements? Hamlet on Hudson, for example?

DECLARED by Greene County Bancorp Inc.: a quarterly dividend increase of a penny per share, to 16 cents. If that boost is repeated in future quarters, an investor who buys company shares at the current price, of $13.20 per unit, would receive a return on investment of almost 5 per cent. A new BGC branch opened recently in Chatham, endowed with a cyber café, thereby giving new meaning to the phrase “full-service bank.” An eleventh branch will be opened in Ravena. It will occupy a former McDonald’s outlet (inspiring an Albany Business Review wag to put that news under the headline “Would you like a loan with that?”).

SPEAKING of business, or of industry, or maybe of rare marine phenomena, the Daily Maul reports that “…the business industry has really started to bring its head above water.”

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