Breaking Down Gender Barriers One Bathroom at a Time
“I wanted to do something good for myself, my family, and all Haitian society, and that’s why I chose to study plumbing.”
Saint-il Viergela, 18, is the first young woman to enroll in the plumbing program at Children Seeking Chances (TIMKATEC), a Catholic-run school of the Salesian order and vocational training program for marginalized youth in Port-au-Prince. Why did she choose plumbing, and why now?
“I’m the one that fixes the plumbing in my family’s home, so it was a natural choice. If there is a leak, I do the initial fixes. If I had the training of a professional plumber, then we wouldn’t ever need to call a handyman, and I could do it all myself.”
Yet her decision to pursue plumbing at TIMKATEC would not have been possible a few months ago. TIMKATEC, a long-time partner of MCC Haiti, only offered their technical training programs such as: carpentry, masonry, electrical, sewing, and plumbing to men. The two programs open to girls – cooking and sewing – were offered at another site in the city.
A government-sponsored gender equality training earlier this year opened the leaderships’ eyes to the importance of educating young women in all professions. Yet one obstacle stood in their way before they could start enrolling girls at their technical school: they had men’s bathroom facilities, but none for women.
After a conversation with TIMKATEC staff in the spring, MCC eagerly stepped in to finance the construction of a women’s bathroom at the professional school.
“This decision to enroll girls is very important,” says Fransesce Beauvil, director of partnership relations at TIMKATEC. “Women deserve the same opportunities as men. Also, women carry most of the responsibility for raising children in Haiti. When you educate a man, you educate one person. When you educate a woman, you educate a whole family.”
Viergela is one of six girls already enrolled for the fall, but Beauvil expects several more to sign up before the September deadline. “In the near future, I hope we have just as many young women as men enrolled in these programs.”
Viergela is hopeful for her future as a plumber. She is determined to do well and set an example for other potential female plumbing students. “I think this program will help me a lot in life. Unlike other schools, where kids so often have to drop out because they don’t have the means to continue, TIMKATEC ensures that every student that starts here, finishes.”
“Once I am finished, I will have the added benefit of being a female plumber. Many people, once they hear about me, will want to hire me and see my work.”
Two months before the start of fall classes, the women’s bathroom is already finished. The project was designed and completed by TIMKATEC professors and students. Viergela, already possessing a keen plumber’s eye, surveyed the newly completed bathroom with admiration.
Complete with three toilets, a shower, mirror, sink, hand towels and lovely artwork, she says it is perfect. “I and the other girls in the program will take care of this space with pride.”
Father Simon, a priest with the Salesian order and founder of TIMKATEC, shared “With the help of MCC, we have not just a practical bathroom facility, but a beautiful space that will help our female students feel welcome.”
Katharine is from San Diego, California and has served with MCC Haiti since July 2014 as Advocacy Coordinator and Policy Analyst. She studied History and Religious Studies at University of California, Davis, then International Development at Eastern University. You can follow her Instagram on life in Haiti @katharineoswald, Haiti advocacy news on Facebook, and her personal blog, Stories to Tell.