by Savannah Bowen
“Without a woman, you couldn’t have life,” declared Jolette with firm certainty. I sat in a circle with a small group of our students and asked them about women, what it meant to be one, and how women impact our lives. Each person I spoke with brought their own experiences to the conversation, but the general consensus was that women were very, very important.
March is Women’s History Month, and March 8th is International Woman’s Day. It’s a time to reflect upon women’s rights, and to remember and celebrate what women have brought to our society, throughout history and into today. But let’s be real, the greatest contribution women have given all of us, is a life here on earth. When we consider the women who’ve made the strongest impacts on our lives, our thoughts quickly land on the words “mother,” “grandma,” “aunt,” and “sister.” The people who give us life, guidance, and friendship.
“I love the way my mom is,” laughed twelve-year-old Jerica. “She’s nice to everyone, but she doesn’t let anyone play with her.” She loves that her mother is firm and respects herself, but also finds a way to be loving and full of humour. “I’d love to be just like her when I’m grown.”
Navigating girlhood is hard enough, but for girls rising into womanhood without a positive model at home, it can be a challenge, and a point of heartache, too.
“If there’s any woman who inspires me, its myself,” announced Jolie, with a tilt of her chin. At fifteen, she’s the eldest of three girls and raising her two younger sisters, as her mother spends most of her time working outside the home. “I’ve got to cook. To clean. To help them study. To wash and braid their hair. I’ve barely got time for myself because I’m the one who’s been trusted to help.”
When asked about the advice she’s been given by women in her life, eighteen-year-old Alix remembers the words of her grandmother.
“She always told me I had to be the one to fight for my own life.” This particular advice has proved to be true for Alix, who had to grow into herself without the model of a mother to follow. Her mom passed away when she was only eight, and she’s had to live with difficult family situations that sometimes discouraged, but also strengthened her ambition.
“I didn’t grow up in a good family, but one day I will have my own. And I dream of having my own child, and bringing them up to succeed, to have what they need. Even if not for my child, for my grandchildren, for the people that come after me. To prove to everyone that I can succeed.”
Success is another topic of contention for our young girls, who desire very strongly to find their place in the world of tomorrow. They love being girls, but they recognize that oftentimes the odds are not in their favor.
“A family with two boys and one girl will prioritize the education of the boys,” remarked another student. And it’s often easy for girls to get caught up in working to support the family instead. This was the case for one student, who had breaks in her education for this reason.
“My mom has always supported my education,” chimed Jerica. “This is one reason that I love her. When I was little, I told her I wanted to be a pediatrician. Later on, my brother said the same thing, but my mom wouldn’t hear it. ‘Jerica’s going to be the pediatrician!’ she told him. ‘You can be something else!’”
Not every girl is encouraged to pursue a profession, let alone their primary education. However, there are plenty of fanm djamn, strong women, defying stereotypes and reaching for their dreams. Women like Martine, one of the lead foreman on the current building project at Ecole Jeremie St. Fort.
“Since I was a kid, I never liked to see women in jobs sitting down all day. I always dreamed to have my own little moto, to ride around and see the world,” said Martine.
“I love the land, and I love working in this domain. I found a school that offered what I wanted, and the rest was history.”
Martine is a foreman working primarily in building houses and living structures. She supervises workers, manages estimates for materials, and generally keeps the operation running with her guiding expertise. The world of construction is dominated by men, but Martine has found her place in the work, and enjoys what she does. She loves joking with the guys and being part of a team.
“Sometimes you come across people who are very arrogant which can make it difficult. But you can always find the positive in the work if you love it,” she said.
When asked about who has inspired her career, Martine smiles as if remembering a special gift.
“There was a woman, a Canadian teacher named Roseline at my school. She was djamn, strong, and doing what I wanted to do. I prayed to become just like her!”
Martine believes that more women should get into construction, and that there’s a need for them in the field. “It’s better when we can be autonomous, and able to take care of ourselves,” she notes. She also just hopes that more young women will look to learn skills that can translate into careers.
“I think all women have something good to bring to the world,” said Lourdia, one of our BRITER Future participants. “The only thing is that we don’t all have the same chances and opportunities to seize. We need more opportunities that will transform us, and our environments too.”
Lourdia is studying to become a masseuse and cosmetologist through our BRITER Future sponsorship program. She’s hopeful about the life she’ll be able to build for herself when she’s done with her studies and is especially grateful for the support she’s found in BRITE.
“Each time I speak with my sponsor, I feel overcome with emotion,” she shared. “I’m not a little girl anymore, like some other girls who need help because they don’t have anyone to guide them through the world. But I’m so grateful. I think to myself, ‘How lucky am I? This person loves and gives to me, encourages me and wishes the best for me. She wants to see me succeed.”
Even more powerful than the will of one determined woman are the networks that strong women weave and rely on to make it through each day. All around the world, societies are held up by the support that women tender to one another. We carry one another, inspire, encourage, and push for freer lives for each new generation. “It’s the women who really work to build society,” said Lourdia. “With our bodies, our lives, and our spirits.”
With or Without Walls
by Savannah Bowen
Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing all our newly sponsored students and taking fresh class photos for BRITE’s website. Though chaotic and tedious, this task is one of my favorites because it puts me face to face with each and every student at our school.
They are timid and cold with me at first. Some of them know and remember me from my previous time in Haiti, but most still require lots of warming up before they’re ready to flash their pearly whites for the camera. Yet with each conversation I have, I learn more about them, and more about the impact that Ecole Jeremie St Fort is having on their lives.