Northern Ireland

Bangor bonfire builders back plan to change lives in Africa

Bonfire builders Image copyright Paddy Finnegan
Image caption Paddy Finnegan's former students are out to make a difference

From building bonfires to building bridges - a group of young men in County Down is helping their former teacher transform lives in the developing world.

When retired engineering lecturer Paddy Finnegan spotted some of his old students building the Churchill bonfire in Bangor it sparked an idea.

Was there a way to make the bonfire wood benefit people in poorer countries?

Could pallet wood become water wheels around the globe?

The idea was a "win-win", Mr Finnegan said.

He organised pallet donations from firms. The bonfire builders then agreed to strip the wood from them to give it to him.

'More opportunities'

Altogether, they helped gather 2,000 wooden slats to be used in Mr Finnegan's prototype water wheel for use in rural Africa and other developing countries.

The slats from the pallets would form a 20-foot diameter wheel which Mr Finnegan says will cost farmers about $50 (£40).

"They will be manufactured in a secondary school and flat-packed up the country to where they can be assembled very simply using hand tools," he said.

"It means that farmers and their families can have access to humane use of donkey power for food processing, pumping and filtering water."

Explaining what his water wheel could mean for communities, Mr Finnegan said: "Imagine you put a donkey on a bicycle."

With his wheel, he said, four donkeys could do the work of 12, pumping water and generating power.

"If rural families had one of these then this would mean girls, who currently stop school at 12 to look after the animals and help fetch water, could have more opportunities."

Image copyright Paddy Finnegan
Image caption Paddy Finnegan has a plan to transform the lives of people in rural Africa and other developing countries

Down the line, Mr Finnegan wants to harness the goodwill of his former students to help him train teachers in developing countries to make tools for use in wicker or leather work.

"I want to bring teachers over here and have them trained - they, in turn, can train the children," he said.

"I'm trying to break a vicious circle. If young girls have a skill that earns money then they will not have to be married off so young."

At the bonfire site in Bangor, he found plenty of positivity.

"There is a wealth of goodwill among young people.

"I want to lift them above petty rivalries to help others."

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