Strong Women Lay the Foundation for Haiti’s Future
From the classroom to the construction site, gender equality is central to buildOn’s global mission. As a community constructs a buildOn school, you’re just as likely to see women among the corps of volunteers—digging foundations, making bricks and mixing cement—as you are men.
Recently, buildOn Haiti began taking female empowerment a step further by training Haitian women to join our staff of skilled building professionals who direct volunteers and perform the jobs that most community members lack training to perform. This means Haitian women like Julnie Genois can not only contribute to, but truly lead construction of buildOn schools.
Women in Haiti are training to become leaders on the construction site by participating in buildOn’s apprenticeship program. (Photo Credit: Tara Rice.)
For Julnie, becoming a skilled mason was a dream that began in 11th grade when she felt called to a career that is uncommon among women in Haiti. Julnie’s parents warned her that becoming a mason wouldn’t be easy, but Julnie was resolute. “God chose me to be a mason,” Julnie says. “My parents said it would be difficult for me, but I really like this type of work.”
After studying masonry for two years and completing an additional year of on-the-job-training, Julnie discovered that her parents were right—despite all of her education and training, people didn’t want to give her work. Because she was a woman, men assumed she didn’t have adequate masonry skills.
“God chose me to be a mason. My parents said it would be difficult for me, but I really like this type of work.”
Julnie struggled to find work for a full year. One day in September 2015, Julnie was doing laundry when her cousin told her about a construction project happening in the nearby village of Valere.
Not wanting to miss out on an opportunity, Julnie grabbed her tools and left for the neighboring village. What she found upon arriving was unbelievable to her—buildOn was leading a team of skilled laborers and community members to build a school, and they were encouraging women to take part in the construction process. The women on the construction site weren’t just fetching water or doing menial tasks—they were actually being invited to learn real construction skills.
During the next three months, Julnie worked as a volunteer from six in the morning to six at night in order to help build the school in Valere. She was happy that the new school would enroll girls in equal numbers with boys, but when asked why she personally was putting in so much time and effort to the school, Julnie responded, “I just like it! I can do this work because I love it.”
Struggling to find work as a skilled mason, Julnie heard about a buildOn construction project in the village of Valere and wasted no time in traveling to Valere to learn more.
Julnie was excited that the other skilled laborers took the time to explain to her the construction plan and showed her improved ways to lay block. She knew right away that the school plan buildOn was using was stronger than other schools being built in Haiti with higher quality standards. Discussing the finer points of construction, Julnie shows off her knowledge: “buildOn teams respect the width of the mortar joints which makes the walls stronger.”
After volunteering for three months and improving her skills at the school building project, she was hired by buildOn as a skilled laborer and worked to build two additional schools before being placed on the construction team to build a school in Baptiste in December 2016.
The Baptiste school was a special project for buildOn. Recognizing the incredible contributions and leadership of the female members of our movement based in the U.S., buildOn and our partner In a Perfect World challenged these women to take the lead in raising critical funds to support the education of women and girls in developing countries. The top contributors to the campaign formed an all-female Trek team that traveled to Haiti to work alongside a skilled labor team made up completely of women.
“If I had to choose a favorite part of the Trek, it would be linking arms and working collaboratively with this amazing group of women and with the local community.”
Lori Bush, former CEO of Rodan + Fields and current member of buildOn’s West Coast Board of Directors, traveled to Baptiste as part of the Trek team and worked alongside the all-female labor team. “If I had to choose a favorite part of the Trek, it would be linking arms and working collaboratively with this amazing group of women and with the local community,” Lori remembers. “I love the social and lasting impact of providing local women with skills and further employment and income generating opportunity even after the project is complete.”
Lori Bush (bottom left) and the rest of the Trek team pose for a picture with community members outside a buildOn school in Haiti.
Julnie was also happy to be in the community of Baptiste, as she saw how the members of the all-female crew served as role models for the women and girls in the community. She held both formal and informal meetings with them and encouraged the women to get involved on the worksite.
As Julnie continues to use her masonry skills to construct schools, she feels honored to be building for such an important cause. “Education is the basis of a human being,” she says.“If you are illiterate, you are viewed as almost nothing. People don’t value you in society.” Julnie is one woman among many who have joined the buildOn movement to break the cycle of poverty, illiteracy and low expectations: “Most people in Haiti don’t value the contributions of women. I am thankful to buildOn for giving me and other women this opportunity.”