Haiti: Learning the building trade offers hope for young mother

Women have been learning typically "male" skills like brick laying and carpentry offering them new chances in Haiti

It was the shoes that caught my attention. On the right foot she wore a pink plastic sandal while on the left a black plimsoll.

The 22-year-old mother of three had found them in the street rummaging through the rubbish and grey sludge of sewage that lies everywhere in the capital of Port-au-Prince. With most people living off about £1 a day there isn’t much spare change left over for luxuries like footwear after food.

It may sound like a pathetic existence but there was something dignified about this young woman to admire. It made the vision of shoppers back in England finding it hard just to find the right pair of shoes to buy seem rather obscene.

Her name was Morance. She was lugging heavy bags of cement and boulders for the men on the building site - and the only woman out there.      

This was not exploitation. Morance was taking obvious pleasure in the backbreaking work, as her two youngest, Richard, seven, and Blandina, two, watched on. Eldest Jessica, ten, was at school. She wiped the sweat from her brow and beamed with healthy pleasure when I went to introduce myself.

Husband Bona Seide, 24, was dead - killed in the earthquake that left 1.5 million homeless three years ago, including Morance and her young family.

And yes. She is still there. Living in one of the hundreds of squalid tent communities that litter the city and lack adequate sanitation and electricity.

I went to see the horrors for myself - but not at night. That was when the gangs came out to terrorise inhabitants with theft, rape and murder.

So how can you be motivated surrounded by grinding poverty where there is such little hope?

For Morance it was a lucky break. She got wind of a new initiative by CARE International to train young women to succeed in a man’s world. Morance had been a part-time cleaner at one of its offices and modestly asked if she might join.

CARE agreed to enrol her in a programme where skills such as carpentry, brick laying and plastering are being taught. The charity is only providing the initial training but the idea is for students to become self sufficient - not to rely on handouts from British donations 4,500 miles away.

And guess what? This is exactly what Morance wanted. Already appreciated by the men for her hard working attitude, the new skills are only going to help - and hopefully earn her some more money.

It means this plucky young widower may soon be able to afford a pair of shoes that not only fit but are matching too. Style choice is still a long way off.

But Morance has no interest in such trivial concerns and shyly admitted to far more impressive ambitions. She told me all she wanted to do was build houses - helping all those poor people still out there whose lives had been destroyed. And then, with her own hands, build a family home.

CARE's picture

News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.