GMIT Letterfrack Soars to New Heights in Morocco
Staff and students collaborate with the Eve Branson Foundation in Morocco for knowledge transfer and skills development
By Dermot O’Donovan
Nestled in the heart of Connemara, adjacent to Connemara National Park, the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology’s campus in Letterfrack offers specialised degree courses in furniture design, wood technology, and teacher education. The campus was designated the National Centre of Excellence in Furniture Design and Technology in 2013 due to its outstanding reputation and the quality of its graduates. In its state-of-the-art campus, students learn and develop skills including design, furniture-making techniques, advanced manufacturing technology, and computer aided design. Despite its remote location on the western seaboard, the campus has a significant network of industry partners in Ireland and overseas, and students undertake a work placement module in a range of companies as part of their learning. Through this work-based education programme, students have the opportunity to work in diverse industries and on projects such as hotel interiors, high-end store design, office and domestic interiors, and even on cruise liners and superyachts! One company with which the college has collaborated in recent years is Green Sahara Furniture, based in the Moroccan commercial centre of Casablanca.
Green Sahara Furniture (GSF)
American David Bult set up Green Sahara Furniture (GSF) in Casablanca in 2007. GSF design and make bespoke furniture for the domestic market and international clients. GSF have a high ethical operating policy, using reclaimed and sustainable materials and providing employment and training opportunities for the local community. Since 2009, David has been a regular visitor to GMIT’s campus in Letterfrack, delivering lectures on ‘green’ business, product development, and international sales. Since then, five GMIT students have undertaken work placement in his workshop in Casablanca, just a stone’s throw from the Atlantic Ocean.
Tansghart Woodwork Centre (TWC)
In recent years, David has been involved in a training centre, the Tansghart Woodwork Centre (TWC), in a remote region in the High Atlas mountain range, south of Marrakesh. This centre is one of a number established with support from the Eve Branson Foundation—a trust founded by Sir Richard Branson’s mother, Eve—providing opportunities for educational enrichment and enterprise for young men from the Berber community in the surrounding villages. The TWC, whose development has been spearheaded by David Bult, has seven trainees who produce a range of wood-based craft items and gifts using both traditional techniques and modern technology.
In October 2016, GMIT Letterfrack Head of Centre Dermot O’Donovan attended the official opening of the TWC. There, discussions took place on how GMIT Letterfrack could provide expertise to support new training, skills development, product development, and design. On that occasion, a memorandum of understanding was signed between GSF and GMIT to chart a path for future knowledge transfer and training needs analysis. Later, in January 2017, GMIT Letterfrack lecturer Paul Leamy, along with students Craig Shanahan and Daniel O’Driscoll, visited the centre in Morocco to begin that educational collaboration.
With support provided by the Teachers’ Union of Ireland and GMIT, woodworking tools valued at more than €2,000 were transported with the Irish team. A training programme was delivered focusing on skills development, machine and equipment maintenance, and health and safety, while the students worked on social media, product design, and marketing. As well as work, there was, of course, play. With many keen soccer enthusiasts, there was time for an international soccer match. Also, amongst the many projects completed, one was the construction of a giant duck made from reclaimed timber! This was in conjunction with the Virgin Limited Edition Give a Flying Duck! campaign and was to be located at the nearby Kasbah Tamadot Hotel. A terrific bond was formed between all parties, and the Berber community, who have a deep-rooted sense of culture and heritage through their rich history, were incredibly generous and welcoming hosts. Paul Leamy summed up the thoughts from the trip:
‘It was a privilege to contribute to such a fantastic project. The young men at the TWC are carving out a future filled with potential where they can provide for themselves and their families. Sharing knowledge and skills is a wonderful way to enhance that process. We were treated incredibly well by all in Morocco from the moment we arrived, and we look forward to developing this relationship into the future to help create further potential in this remote area of the High Atlas mountains.’
Student Daniel O’Driscoll remarked, ‘This trip was such an eye-opener for me. It is a fabulous project. What these guys are producing with such basic equipment is incredible. The next time I come back, it will be for much longer.'
This collaboration forms part of GMIT Letterfrack’s Green Campus Initiative, a programme aimed at embedding sustainability into the curriculum and operations of the campus in Connemara. This is further enforced through GMIT’s work with the Ubuntu network, supported by Irish Aid, which focuses on integrating development education principles into initial teacher education programmes. For the future, there are plans to develop more formal educational partnerships between GMIT and Tansghart Woodwork Centre, to continue to develop the product range, and to examine access options to international markets. One day it is hoped that some of the TWC trainees will be accredited with GMIT Letterfrack awards. Most of all, we can continue to learn from each other and share our stories, cultures, and traditions.
Find out more about the project at www.evebransonfoundation.org.uk/eves-story/my-foundation. To learn more about GMIT Letterfrack, go to www.gmit.ie/letterfrack.