Torgerson uses woodworking skills to benefit Developing Countries

Earl Torgerson, BSC associate professor of residential construction and sustainability technology, recently used his skill set to teach furniture-making to representatives from non-governmental organizations (NGO) in Fiji, Ghana, Liberia and Uganda. He participated in a five-day workshop at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking in Whiteland, Ind., titled, From Forest to Final Form: Perpetuating Purpose.

Torgerson is in the process of getting his Master Woodworker Designation at Marc Adams – the largest school of woodworking in North America.

The workshop began after Wood-Mizer, a wood processing equipment manufacturer, donated hundreds of portable sawmills to impoverished countries. That generous contribution identified a gap – the communities lacked the tools and skills needed to turn the wood they harvested into useful products. Funding from the Narrow Gate Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating, inspiring and empowering Christian discipleship, allowed Marc Adams to step in and close that gap.

Because each country in the pilot project needs school furniture (desks, chairs, tables, etc.), the focus of the workshop was to develop furniture prototypes. Attendees split into four groups with three groups developing the prototypes, and the fourth putting together kits of manual tools needed to make the furniture.

Torgerson, who was on the team building chairs, said it was a challenging task because they didn’t use any fasteners, adhesives or power tools. “It’s not that these countries don’t have access to them, but fasteners and adhesives are cost-prohibitive and electricity is not reliable. It was challenging as we had to adjust our mindset, but also rewarding.”

Once the prototypes were created, pictures were taken and videos were made for each piece to help the NGO representative teach people in the receiving nations how to make them. The NGOs will administer the project on the ground by providing training and determining how best to use the lumber produced by the saw mills and how to distribute the products.

While the workshop was taking place, people in the countries receiving this support sent texts and emails expressing their gratitude. “When you invest your time in people, it has a high return. It changes lives,” Torgerson said.

This isn’t the first time he has given time and energy to assist those in developing countries. He helped set up a carpentry training program at The Scheel Center, a part of the God’s Child Project in Guatemala.

Torgerson said he hopes to remain involved in the From Forest to Final Form project. “It is well backed and organized. I would love to continue to contribute to the development of it.”

Learn more about BSC’s Carpentry program.