David Bösch, a 25-year-old electrician from St Gallen, worked in a vocational training centre in Benin last year from February to July. He carried out maintenance work and taught apprentices, documenting everything with his camera.
It was pure coincidence that he ended up in the West African country with a population of just under ten million. After recruit school he didn’t want to carry on with military service, so opted for civilian service. After a long search, he eventually found the Liweitari vocational training centre in the city of Natitingou, run by a Swiss aid organisation.
“The work wasn’t easy. It was hard getting hold of good-quality and suitable material – a lot of things weren’t available and you had to improvise. Plus punctuality wasn’t always high on people’s list – we’re not used to that…”
In the centre, which is led by Heinrich Roth, originally of Switzerland, mechanics and masons are trained following the dual Swiss system, which combines theory and practice.
Bösch was there along with 14 apprentices. “They lived in very modest accommodations – six to a room – and had virtually no privacy,” he said. Bösch himself lived with Roth and his wife some four kilometres from the workplace.
Bösch's tasks included training the electricians and occasionally teaching theory. “That was hard,” he said. “Not all of them understood the decimal system, and they speak an African French which I didn’t always understand.”
He struggled at first with the temperature – not sleeping properly for three months – but it ended up being a worthwhile and enjoyable time for Bösch, who said he was accepted and appreciated and learnt “how to live with little yet still be happy”.
He is currently working as an electrical supervisor in Beira, Mozambique. (Photos: David Bösch; Text: Gaby Ochsenbein, swissinfo.ch)