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This Is What a Construction Engineer Looks Like

March 5, 2012

International Women’s Day — which celebrates the economic, political, and social achievements of women throughout the world — is March 8. And while I believe we should honor women’s accomplishments every day, International Women’s Day is a great reminder. This year, one of the women on my mind is Michelle-Ange Augustin, whom I met when I was in Haiti last May. Known as Mimine, she is the construction engineer for the eco-village, an innovative project in rural Haiti created by the Papaye Peasant Movement (MPP) with support from UUSC.

Mimine is 30 years old (same as me!), and she grew up in the MPP community in the Central Plateau, several hours outside of Port-au-Prince. When I talked to her about how she became a construction engineer, she told me, “I always liked the types of jobs that men do. I had a choice when I was in high school. I always said to myself that if I didn’t learn to be an engineer, I wanted to learn agronomy.”

When MPP decided they need to send one of their members to Port-au-Prince for engineering training, she jumped at the chance to volunteer. MPP paid for the course, and she learned the ins and outs of what it takes to be a construction engineer. She was the only woman in a class of 25 people.

With her technical skills and no-nonsense leadership style, Mimine has managed the physical creation of the eco-village, from the foundation trenches to the roofs overhead. There, a new community has sprouted, with 10 displaced families rebuilding their lives after surviving the 2010 earthquake. That’s 10 homes and 10 solid foundations for a new start.

In addition to its goals of sustainable agriculture and food security, MPP is dedicated to gender equality and advocates for women’s rights. And it’s clear that they walk their talk when it comes to making sure women have equal opportunities. During one conversation I had with Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, MPP founder and leader, he told me that as he prepares for eventual retirement, he is training two people to share the top leadership when he steps down — and he made sure one of them was a woman.

As a handwritten sign in the dining hall and community room of MPP’s training center in Papaye says, “San Famn Chanjman Pa Posib” (“Without Women Change Is Not Possible”). That simple, powerful statement sums up why women and girls are at the center of so much of UUSC’s work throughout the world. So today, tomorrow, and every day, I want to honor all of the women we work with to make change — from Mimine in Haiti to Dalia in Egypt to Jackie in Uganda.

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