A school for Malawi

United by the corporate program that trained and challenged their talent, two young engineers enjoyed a unique experience that gave deep meaning to their volunteering activity.

Oct 2022

Sergio Sciume, currently Manufacturing Engineer for HELO Program, and Francesco Contini, Logistics Lean Leader, both joined GE's Operations Management Leadership Program (OMLP): the program for young engineers who are taking part in an intensive two-year path designed to accelerate the development of talent at the start of their careers in the workforce, and prepare them to take on the industrial or technological challenges prioritized by the company.

But there is something else that Sergio and Francesco also have in common; both are also involved in the volunteer projects run by BuildOn - a nonprofit organization founded by former GE employee, Jim Parke.

Part of the NGO's mission is in fact to build schools in villages in countries with a historical lack of adequate educational facilities. These are places where students attend overcrowded classes in dark, dilapidated mud huts, outdoor lessons under the cover of trees when the weather permits, or where they have to walk several miles to a nearby village in order to attend school, if such a thing exists.  

Young students at their new school in Livwezi (Malawi).

Sergio, when did you first start at Avio Aero and what do you do today?

"I first set foot in Avio Aero in November 2017, as an intern dealing with turbine rotating component technologies. In March 2018, I joined the OMLP program, rotating to different sites to cover various roles. Wherever I was sent to work, I always maintained my commitment to volunteering; in fact, I held the position of 'Avio Aero Volunteers Focal' first in Cameri, then in Borgaretto, and now at the headquarters in Rivalta". 

How did the collaboration with BuildOn come about and why did you choose the project in Malawi?

"I believe we are in the world to create something to leave for posterity. It could be understood as the meaning of life, or it could simply be a personal sense of satisfaction in helping others. Whatever it is, Francesco and I were literally drawn to the project that saw us raise the funds (about $43,000) to build an elementary school in Livwezi, Malawi. The overall experience was sensational, diverse, and unique, but also tough,  hard, indescribable, a bit like Africa in general. The 'United For Malawi' team which funded the project is made up of 13 people from 7 different countries: engineers who share an open mind and an immense desire to get things done, people of all ages and ethnicities. We got on well right from the start. The local BuildOn team was amazing in everything: they looked after us and integrated us as much as possible into village life (thanks in part to the two interpreters they provided), fed us safe local food, and managed the logistics of the entire project on site. In all honesty, since my return, it has never been easy to answer the question ‘how did it go?’, which is why I recorded some videos to try to share a few of the moments that moved us most. And we also have an official buildOn gallery dedicated to our project in Malawi." 

A team picture with local staff and BuildOn volunteers inside the newly built school.

Francesco, what was the motivation that prompted you to participate in this project?

“I have always thought of education as what really gives people the opportunity to be free, to choose their own destiny. After many years of volunteering, both with Avio Aero Volunteers and privately, I decided to take a step further. With determination and flexibility, together with Sergio we plunged into this new, extraordinary experience”.

Speaking of your OMLP program, what is the most inspiring and most challenging aspect of the program?

"Definitely, the constant training and multidisciplinary rotations that lead to continuous learning, but which also help you get out of your comfort zone. The lack of 'geographic stability' resulting from the program rotations is sometimes seen as negative but, in reality, it actually serves as the perfect way to gain a 360° view of the Avio Aero Supply Chain." 

What was one lesson you learned and what advice would you give to new people starting in the OMLP program today?

"The best advice we can give is to keep asking questions, always. Don’t be afraid or feel belittled. Your journey requires the knowledge that you will have to acquire in a short time, so ask (and ask yourself) as many questions as you can, and never let that all-important hunger for knowledge, that must accompany you all along the entire journey, be satisfied. And, of course, always remain humble and respectful to the people you interact with."

What characteristics do you think an OMLP can never be without?

"Determination, resourcefulness and flexibility, and a lot of willingness to always 'get back in the game', in work as in life."

From the left, Francesco Contini and Sergio Sciume in Malawi.

What can be done to support and realize this or other projects together with you?

"This project is now in its closing stages: fundraising has finished, and the school in Livwezi will be completed in about 3 weeks by a team of local builders. However, we have just started a new project to build a school in Nepal in 2024, with an even more challenging goal."

What can you tell about it?

"The project aims at building a new school in Nepal in 2024. Anyone can contribute in two ways: by donating to the cause through our dedicated webpage - Nepal 2024 Sergio, Nepal 2024 Francesco - or by joining the United for Nepal 2024 team and becoming an active volunteer in the fundraising effort (with the added possibility of traveling to the site, just like we did). Finally, through classic word of mouth, especially among GE colleagues. BuildOn can in fact be selected from the GE Matching Program: Each employee donation over $25 will be doubled by GE Foundation, which will in fact donate an amount equivalent to that already donated (just fill in this simple  workflow form after making a donation)".

Images in page and cover are courtesy of Sergio, Francesco and BuildOn.