Bonaventure Fandohan might not use the word feminist to describe himself, but that’s exactly what he is.
As an International Development Professional and a native to the West African country of Benin, Bona (as he’s called by his friends) is all too familiar with the gender discrimination that accompanies life in the developing world. While leading our team in Haiti as buildOn’s former Country Director, he worked hard to influence gender equity in the villages he visited. Whether by encouraging women to take a lead role in the school’s planning or by enforcing buildOn’s requirement that girls attend the new school in equal numbers to boys, he was changing the lives of women in some of Haiti’s economically poorest communities.
But one day, on a school construction site, he noticed something was off.
“I began to notice that 100% of paid masons on the worksite were men,” Bona recalls. “I would see women in the villages volunteer to work hard on the construction of the new school for their village, or see them hold the president’s role on the school building committee, but they weren’t able to be a part of the paid skilled labor team. I thought to myself, ‘this must change.’”
About that time, Bona was introduced to Nick Troutt, a German-American who moved to Haiti with one goal: to teach proper masonry skills in order to save lives. A lifelong mason by trade, Nick was devastated after learning that much of the death and destruction from the 2010 Haiti earthquake was caused by faulty brickwork. Nick’s goal to teach proper trowel and bricklaying technique lined up well with Bona’s desire to see more women on the worksite. They began targeting women in buildOn villages to learn technical masonry skills and buildOn Apprenticeships were born.
When buildOn partners with a village to build a school, buildOn Apprenticeships are introduced to all members of the community, both men and women. To qualify for the program, one must show up to volunteer on the school’s construction site every day, be able to question the skilled labor team, and register with buildOn’s team of skilled laborers. If a woman in the community comes every day to the worksite, volunteers and works hard, she can be recommended to attend a skilled masonry workshop, taught by Nick.
buildOn holds two workshops a year where women are taught proper trowel and bricklaying technique. Although the workshop is open to both sexes, Nick contends that his best students are: the women.
“The women on the crew are more teachable since they haven’t had the time to develop the bad habits that the young men have,” Nick says. “They have good attitudes and are ready to learn, they pick up the skills very quickly.”
Bona agrees, “When you work with women on the worksite, you can see their perseverance and their capacity to collaborate with other team members.”
Prior to her involvement in a buildOn Apprenticeship, Josile Andrise was struggling to make ends meet while living in a straw house with eight other adults and her two children. As a child, Josile was full of determination, walking 60 minutes each way to attend primary school. But, without the resources or support, she was unable to pass the entrance exam for secondary school. So as an adult, she took a job harvesting produce on someone else’s land to provide for her children, but it was never enough.
Now, after completing a buildOn Apprenticeship and being hired by buildOn as a skilled mason, Josile is paying for the education of her two sons and her daily necessities, and has been able to invest her earnings in her own land to grow whatever she needs – such as corn, root vegetables, and beans.
“buildOn taught me masonry for free and they have given me work, which has begun to greatly change my economic situation for myself and my family,” Joslie says. “This opportunity has given me prestige in the eyes of others.”
buildOn Apprenticeships teach women constructions skills needed to work in trades that women have traditionally been excluded from in developing countries like Haiti.
So far, ten apprentices have graduated from the masonry workshops. These graduates may get hired to work for buildOn, or may go to other local construction firms. Soon, an all-women masonry team will start building schools in Haiti. The women trained in buildOn Apprenticeships succeed because they are determined to change their own lives. But, both men and women have the responsibility to identify and provide opportunities for women to grow – much like Bona, Nick and buildOn’s entire team in Haiti have.
Or, in the words of buildOn’s Head Engineer in Haiti, Yvan Nazaire: “Equality is the basis of the evolution of society and social justice. It would be wrong to deprive a woman of her right to live properly and to enjoy her freedom working just because she is a woman. The objective of buildOn in Haiti, by integrating women into our skilled labor teams, is to promote their autonomy and leadership, allowing them to fight for a real and effective change in their lives.”
buildOn Apprenticeships are just one of the ways we’re empowering women to build stronger communities across the globe. To learn more about buildOn’s commitment to gender equity in the classroom, on the worksite, and in our organization’s leadership visit buildOn.org/stronger-together