By Jessica Lovell
When she wants to know how to do something – like make homemade bread or knit a pair of socks – Ami Dehne is the kind of person who will look it up online or in a book and then dive right in.
But she also knows that there are other people who are a little more tentative about things – things like making cheese or butchering a pig.
“A lot of people, they just need a bit of a hand from an instructor,” says Dehne.
And her unique Guelph-based business is all about connecting people with the right instructor.
“It’s a community- and resiliency-building business that runs hands-on workshops,” she says.
It’s called Minga Skill Building Hub.
It was launched in August 2012 as a social enterprise to provide a platform and space to facilitate the sharing and learning of skills, skills that in many cases are being lost to current generations.
“It’s these skills that only two generations ago, everybody knew how to do, and somehow we lost them,” says Dehne.
They include everything from framing homes to do-it-yourself personal care products. The very first workshop was a fermenting vegetables workshop, she says.
“Right now, the focus has been on more traditional skills because that’s what people are interested in, but it’s not limited to that,” she says.
The business was inspired by a year Dehne spent with her husband in New Zealand, travelling and building skills themselves.
The name “Minga” comes from an indigenous language of Ecuador and means “where a community comes together to do an action that benefits the greater good of the community,” she explains.
Dehne herself doesn’t teach the workshops. Instead, she works with local people who have the know-how and helps them create workshops. She then provides them with a space – currently she rents space from Artisanale French Country Cooking downtown – and she registers the students.
Though it initially started with a focus on more traditional skills, the main goal is to foster a deeper appreciation of the process involved in any particular endeavor, be it cheese making or website design.
Not all the workshop instructors are professionals. Rather, they are people with specific skills. For example, the cheese-making workshop is taught by a hobby farmer who does not sell cheese, but makes it at home, says Dehne.
Participants won’t necessarily come out feeling like expert cheese makers, but they will get a better understanding of the cheese maker’s job, she says.
And it’s not about becoming an expert in one workshop.
“It’s really about people being able to go home and feel more comfortable with the process,” Dehne says.
So far, Minga has run about 40 workshops, and Dehne has been at them all, making sure they run smoothly.
It’s a lot of work, considering it’s not her full-time job. She also works for eMERGE, which provides home visits to assess environmental efficiency, and for FarmStart.
Beyond what is learned in workshops, she thinks people come out for the community aspect. Learning in small groups with like-minded people has been a positive, she says.
The interest in sharing an experience with others is not just limited to the participants either, she says. For example, a University of Guelph student approached her about teaching a bread-making workshop.
“He just has a passion for baking bread and he just wants to share that passion with other people,” Dehne says.
And people get to take home more than a new skill at the end of a workshop. “Everybody goes home with something they make,” she says.
But it’s the confidence they get from trying something new that is perhaps the most important thing.
“It’s really about building confidence,” Dehne says. “Because the hardest thing about all of this is actually getting started.”
People can check out Minga’s offerings at www.mingaskillbuilding.ca.