Teaching the nuts and bolts of truck repair in Juba

These mechanics from the Juba fleet team in South Sudan have just completed a training in truck maintennance and repair given by Renault Trucks. Copyright: WFP

A whiteboard sits in the middle of a shipping container that’s been converted into a classroom. On it is a list of words: ‘Relay, Battery, Sensor, Alternator, Fuse, Starter.’ A group of students watches and listens as two teachers explain the intricacies and understandings of how currents travel through a truck engine.

The setting is the first-ever Renault Trucks (RT) and WFP training, where two RT experts have come to Juba, South Sudan to share their knowledge and expertise with WFP mechanics on advanced vehicle maintenance and repair. As part of a sort of East Africa training ‘road trip’ for WFP, Renault Trucks staff are travelling to four cities in four countries, and Juba is the second stop on their journey (more here).

At WFP’s Fleet Workshop, 13 Juba mechanics have just been trained in not only complex methods of truck care, but they have also learned the basics – why is that the battery functions the way it does? Understanding the complexities of an engine and its related parts will help to form the solid understanding needed for these technicians to fully do their jobs, quickly and efficiently.

Paul Caley is one of two RT trainers here at the fleet workshop. His way of breaking down complicated ideas is to use everyday life examples, and it’s very helpful (even for someone who’s not so technical!).

“Let’s say you’re in the market for a pair of shoes. There are two stores that have exactly what you would like to buy – same model, same price. The one story is about 5ft away, whereas the other is just a tad further at 50ft away. Which do you go to?”

Muffled voices whisper to each other. Is this a trick question?

“I would go to the closer one,” says one mechanic.

“And why is that?” Paul asks. Muffled voices again. “It’s because we’re lazy, and so is electricity!” Laughter goes around as they start to realize the logic. You see, Paul explains that electricity always takes the quickest and shortest route to power something. There’s a problem with your battery not taking power? First consider the path of least resistance, so to say – the shortest wire, not the longest. Ironically, this is where the term ‘short circuit’ comes from.

As you can imagine, there is a considerable amount of technical lingo when talking about truck repair. Nicolas Cottin of Renault Trucks is also here in Juba, and he ensures that the theoretical knowledge and terms are well-taught. 

“Why do we need wires to be ‘isolated?’” he asks. If you’re a mechanic, this simply means that each wire must be covered – thus ‘isolating’ the power, as it has a tendency to divert its current elsewhere if not guided.

With a session on the theory of maintenance and repair followed by time dedicated to demonstration and hands-on teaching, the training has been a great success for both parties.

Paul mentions that it’s been very rewarding to share his knowledge. “It’s great to be able to give back,” he says. This being his first journey to Africa, it’s been an experience that goes past merely the training. “I’ve seen things here that I didn’t think were possible in terms of infrastructure. For WFP, I can see why this is so challenging on a daily basis.”

Nicolas, who is based in Accra, is coming to South Sudan for the first time as well. ‘In terms of logistics, I can see it’s very difficult here, even small things like roads make the travel much longer.’  Training is also something that Nicolas does in his job with Renault Trucks, but not necessarily any of this kind. “It was a great experience,” he says. “For some of these mechanics, it is the first training [theoretical and practical] that they have ever had, and they will be able to use it in their day-to-day jobs.”

And what about the mechanics? The knowledge they’ve gained has been so valuable, and it shows. In just one session, a complex issue that they had been facing with a few WFP trucks had been solved. And it’s not just that – but from now on, they will be able to prevent this problem from ever happening again. Why? Because it’s more than just the practice that they have been taught, but it’s the theory behind it.

David Soroba, a Juba Fleet mechanic, was able to take away alot of knowledge from these past few days. “We learned many things, especially on how to maintain and repair the new generation Renault Trucks. It’s also been the first time that we have had the opportunity to participate in this type of training. We really appreciate and thank Renault Trucks for making this available to us.”