Goodbye to Archana Women’s Centre…for now

On Friday, November 8, the tradeswomen of North America and the women of Archana said goodbye after a week of discussions, site visits, media events, meetings with government and academic dignitaries and getting to know each other. More on the activities and final day below but first a personal story from Electrician Denise Duavin.

Two stories: Two Women Masons

By Denise Dauvin, Industrial Electrician, British Columbia

I heard something today that touched my heart.

We were having a roundtable meeting about the challenges women face in non-traditional trades. One of the women, who’s name is Money, had just traveled 4 hours to come to the meeting. She told us her story. She had grown up in the very poorest of families and her family put her out to work cleaning by age 5. She had no schooling, she could not read or write. She was married off at a very young age and had two children. It was then that her husband abandoned the family. She was desperate when she met Thresiamma Mathew, founder of Archana Women’s Centre. Money was in one of the first groups of women who were trained at the Centre to become Masons.

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Archana graduate and 23-year Mason, Money

She not only learned to be a Mason, but learned how to read and write. She continued learning and first got a scooter license and then a car license. She has gone on to raise her children and has been self-employed as a Mason for over 23 years. 

This echoed to me some events in my life. I was 17 when I got pregnant and had two children. I ended up a single mother after a very terrible marriage. I felt powerless, and needed a way to earn money and take care of my children. It was then that I entered the trades, where you get paid as you learn. Trades was the answer for both Money and I enabling us to raise our children and become strong, skilled trades people. We are lucky in North America to have government programs that help single parents to improve their education. Thank goodness the women of Kerala, India have the Archana Women’s Centre.

Final goodbyes

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A final ceremony

 

 

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The visit was big news!

newsClick here to see the women of Archana and the Building Bridges delegates meeting together and sharing tools at the Centre in a video news report in the Malayalam language. At 1.03 in the broadcast, Noreen Buckley, San Francisco Electrician explains the purpose of the North American tradeswomen’s trip to Kerala.

On to Kochin and a weekend with the members and leaders of KKNTC, the local affiliate of Builders and Woodworkers International (BWI)

 

 

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Visiting Archana Electricians and Plumbers at Work

By Katy Rhodes, Electrician, British Columbia

f301975a-72c9-4c29-a381-55d43cdf5b17In Kerala, the Archana Women’s Centre puts women through a 3 month program but often has trouble recruiting women because of their traditional views of women’s work. You can imagine that if the women themselves need convincing, the community does as well. Thresiamma Mathews (founder of the Archana Women’s Centre) not only invests a lot of time preparing women to enter the training program, but has also negotiated contracts with government in order to establish a work report with these women in the community. I was in awe with her holistic approach.

IMG_7913We were able to visit the plumbers and the electricians during their workday, but we spent the majority of our time with the plumbers and were able to see their water collection filtration system from start to finish. Firstly, the concrete barrel was built at the Archana Women’s Centre. When the materials are brought to site they are ready to be installed. They then build a roof water collection system with PVC gutters and pipe the water into the barrel that is then filled with aggregate and charcoal layers with a tile to displace water so that it doesn’t shift the rocks during heavy rain. From there, the clear water enters the well. These communities get to see women doing this work and these women get paid very well for their work while they practice what they’ve learned in school. The pride that they show in their work is a universal feeling I’ve seen across trades and sectors in North America as well.

IMG_7679Although our visit with the electricians was short, I really loved that they were working at a school with young children. Normalizing women doing this work for children at that young age will influence their views of what is women’s work and help mold the culture of trades for future generations- a task that we have been working hard on in North America as well.

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A monument to a monumental event: Women of Archana and Women of North America come together for gender and economic equality in the trades

By Noreen Buckley, Electrician, San Francisco

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Jayasree P. K. designed and built this symbol of women’s power to honor the great work that was achieved by the Building Bridges Delegation and Archana Women Center this past week.

This statue marks the beginning of our International Partnership in global visibility and support of all Tradeswomen.  From here we will continue holding each other up, strengthening our voices and moving gender equality forward!

Veronica, a mason from CA, helped Jayasree complete the finishing touches on the statue.

 

 

 

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FOCUS ON SAFETY

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Forewomen in India! (From left to right – electrician, plumber, plumber, carpenter, mason, mason)

On Wednesday, the North American Tradeswomen and the Women of Archana discussed safety on the job in construction. Below is a summary of that discussion. In an effort to keep the issue at the top of our joint international agenda, we have added FOCUS ON SAFETY to the front page menus on the Building Bridges webpage. We can refer back to this first discussion and add and share ideas on that menu page.

In North America, we often complain about lapses in safety on construction sites–

  • a worker up high has not been giving a harness
  • a cloud of concrete dust envelopes a crew without respiratory protection
  • workers are told to lift excessive weight when a hand truck could have moved it faster and without risk of back injury

This is nothing like we see in India where most workers are totally unprotected and injury and death on construction sites happen every day.

Archana Women’s Centre wants to be a leader in changing this. They have asked Tradeswomen Building Bridges to assist them in this goal. The first discussion happened on November 7 and here are the notes from that meeting.

Safety Conversation with AWC Heads of Trades

  • After our site visits – what machines do the North American Delegation believe AWC could use to make their jobs easier.
  • If AWC sees a tool, machine or process and they want to learn more – take a picture/video and send to us.  We will virtually provide accurate info
  • Teach/share ergonomics and proper safety positions to AWC workers.  Use pictures posted on job sites of how to work safely and with proper ppe (as it make sense in Indian climate) (knee pads for masons and plumbers, gloves for masons, nose plugs for carpenters, safety glass for everyone.

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  • Work with engineers to build job so workers will be safe as they build.
  • Is Fall protection a thing in India?
  • Create a “Train the trainers” program at AWC
  • AWC wants to be a model of safety so other regions and programs follow them
  • Collect data on injuries to help prove case of need for safety.

What will happen next?

How can we continue to support the women of Archana?

Can we find health and safety experts in North America who will assist this project?

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There is more than one way to move construction materials

The women of Building Bridges shared the following photos that may be of particular interest to Operating Engineers.

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The Work of the AWC Masons

By Jenna Lipinski, Canadian Bricklayer

On Nov, 4 2019, a group of us visited a Mason Jobsite in Kottayam, Kerala. Members of our group included myself, Jenna Lipinski (Bricklayer, Canada), Jan Jenson (Retired Ironworker/Photo Journalist, US) and Chantal Krcmar (PhD Candidate/Researcher, Mumbai).

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Jenna, Jan and Chantal (first row right) meet with Archana Masons and a family that lost their home in last year’s floods.

We arrived at the jobsite and were greeted by Amala who is a Social Worker for The Archana Women’s Center and Shiny who runs the CAG Program (Community Action Group). Our visit started with introductions to the women working on site. Rhadika is the Chief Mason for the Archana Women’s Center (28 Years in trade). Working with her was Ambily, Ancy and Smitha. They were rebuilding a house that was destroyed by the devastating floods of 2018. The home owners were still living on the property in a temporary shelter. This new house was built on a raised solid foundation to protect it from future flood damage.

 

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Rhadika (right) is the Chief Mason for the AWC

They showed us the different tools and demonstrated how they all work the blocks they used for the walls (each one weighs 23kg) and let me get in there and lay some blacks with them.

The whole crew on site loaded some blocks into the unit to assist in making their day perhaps just a little easier. The Workers wore hardhats and flip flops. Some had gloves to wear. In the heat it’s not pleasant for them to have workboots on. As the women took lunch we had a chance to sit and have a discussion with Amala and Shiny about the role CAG has in their outreach work with women: empowering them and supporting them to take the first step in starting a job in the Trades and joining the Archana Team. We were enlightened on the different barriers and obstacles the women in India have to overcome in this Industry. We learned the history, where the program currently stands and their hopes for the future.

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Jenna helps Rhadika lay concrete blocks

Kerala is a leader in this movement and some areas of India are very far behind in viewing the trades as an acceptable career choice for women. No matter the struggle, they are devoted to continue raising awareness and empowering women. After our discussion we were joined by a government official who was responsible for the funding that was given to this family to rebuild their home. We got everyone together to snap a few photos and share with the women just how incredible and inspiring they are to us. This was a truly an inspirational day and I will continue to share the stories of these women and support the future endeavours of the Masons and the Archana Women’s Center.

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Hospitality Beyond Compare

By Antoinette “Ant” Yap, Millwright from Vancouver, British Columbia

I honestly had no idea what I was in for when starting this trip. In preparation for my trip I did my research, spoke to as many friends as possible who touched or came from this far away land to better prepare myself for this experience. What I did not know was that this experience would put me to shame.
The people of India and in my experience the people of Kerala’s hospitality is beyond compare. From day 1 we have been welcomed in treatment only suited for royals and heads of state, fed to the point of fear that I am being fattened up for a feast, and given the opportunity at a rare glimpse into the world of how women in trades in India are breaking barriers. Under the guidance of Thresiamma Mathew, the Archana Women’s Centre is providing woman an opportunity to provide for themselves and their families in trades non traditional to women. This truly resonates with me because I have experienced similar struggles as these women from across the world. I am beyond awe at these women because despite all the adversity they have to overcome, they are thriving and just as kind as the harsh world around them. The quality of work they produce without the tools or resources we have in the western world is astounding. What shocks me the most is their attitude. These women are strong and have the biggest hearts. Coming from a land where westerners can come off as cold, I thought I was more than an adequate host. Little did I know people of India treat guests as their god. It’s incredibly humbling since I am well aware these people would give their shirts off their backs.
Thank you, India, for all the love you’ve shown me so far. I have only been here for less than a few days and am overwhelmed by your hospitality. I don’t know how much I can take before I’ll explode. I truly now understand when people say India changes you. I know I will not only gain 5 dress sizes but my heart is full beyond compare.

Ant shared some of her photos of the visit so far.

Welcome and Celebration

 

 

Site Visits

 

 

Evening Fireworks

 

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Carpenters Visit Carpenters

By Cassandra Klewicki, Carpenters Local 290

signToday I had the privilege of visiting Archana’s Carpentry Unit with two other delegates from the trade. It was an amazing experience. First we met Chandran, who is part of the Vishwakarma (Carpenter) caste in India. That means his family have been carpenters for generations. It’s essentially his destiny to be a carpenter.

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Chandra and Cassie

He is a strong ally to tradeswomen, pushing back against gender norms, as well as cultural norms by helping to teach 15 female apprentices in this shop. Many of them are not from the same caste as him. He is an example of what is possible when our brothers support and encourage us.

 

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AWC Lead Carpenter Omana Soman and Building Bridges delegate Julie Enman working on wood lathe.

The students showed us their most recent furniture projects and then the lead carpenter, Omana Soman gave us a tour of the shop. I learned about their method of construction, which is a variation of the Lath and Plaster method we used in older homes back in the States. They use bamboo wood on the inside which was interesting to see. Throughout the shop, we were able to compare methods and tools to the ones we use to back home. A huge highlight of the day was when she demonstrated how to use a Lathe to create a table leg, something none of us had seen before.

 

 

 

 

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Archana Women’s Centre (AWC) Executive Director Thresiamma Mathew shows newspaper headline “American carpenter ladies and AWC learn furniture construction together.”

During our time there, we were interviewed by three different local media outlets. We tried to use the opportunity to normalize women in the trades, and build cross cultural understanding. Ultimately, we found more similarities than differences in the work, and in the struggles we face as women in the trades. I’m happy that we had some exciting conversations about wood and gained new friends.

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Priceless experiences: “Treasures that can not be bought.”

By Veronica Godinez,

JourneyWoman Cement Mason out of OPCMIA Local 400 in Sacramento CA. Director of Northern California Joint Apprenticeship and Training.  Member of her union’s initiative to empower women members, Steel Edge Women of the OPCMIA.

To say that this has been an amazing experience is an understatement. We have been catered to on a level that I myself have not encountered. According to “society” this would be considered a poor state, yet the riches the people of Kerala, India display would make many envious. They have the kind of treasures that cannot be bought.

Another priceless experience was meeting the strong, encouraging, and courageous women of Archana Women’s Center. The movement that was started by Thresiamma has had a positive impact by helping women gain skills in industries that are predominantly male.

The Universe helps those that help themselves, so I can’t wait to see what wonderful talent this beacon of light will continue to attract and empower.

 

Yesterday’s activities at Archana

bamboo and masonry house group

 

US and Canadian tradeswomen visited a bamboo and masonry house built by tradeswomen trained at the Archana Women’s Center. And the family who lives in this house!

 

 

In the evening, they enjoyed a boat ride on the Kariykar River and dinner at a Fish Camp.

 

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The Tradeswomen have arrived at the Archana Women’s Centre in Kerala

November 4, 2019

Our first blog post is from San Francisco Electrician and Building Bridges organizer, Noreen Buckley. Noreen was also a member of the 2017 Tradeswomen Building Bridges Delegation. She writes:

NoreenI made it safely to India – it was a total of 25 hours of travel with a short layover in Singapore.  I landed at 10:30 pm and finally arrived at the hotel around 1:00 am local time.  The last part of the journey was such a blur!

I am in Kerala, India (south west area of the country).  It is rural part of the country, very lush and humid. The region is the most progressive region of India in terms of women’s rights.  It also has the highest literary rate, highest life expectancy, low infant mortality and lower birthrate in all of India. The area strives to base “success” on social factors as oppose to material factors.

Our time here will be spent with the organization, Archana Women Centre (AWC).  It was started in 1995 by one social worker.  She observed women construction workers only being allowed to do menial tasks, being paid very little. She started by training women how to be plumbers.

The women master the skills quickly, what took more effort was convincing the townspeople that they could use the toilet that the tradeswomen built without it falling apart!

Fast forward to 2019, AWC now has two locations and over 18 programs – ranging from the trades (carpentry, masonry, plumbing) to farming to taxi driving to gender equality and life skills.  The tri–factor work of empowering women to want to learn, educating society on gender equality and teaching the skills to have a sustainable and independent life, is the work of AWC.

This is the space we enter, the powerful people that we will be learning and sharing with this next week and a half! We have much to earn and much to share!

Drummers first dayWe were met with a powerful drumming performance and a prosperity ceremony – to honor all of the good that this collaboration will bring for women in the Trades!

I am always in awe of the hosting practices of other countries…it makes me feel like a celebrity! This coupled with the number of “selfies” I was in because they “love my smile” has my cheeks hurting by the end of the night.  Small price to pay to advance women working in the Trades!

welcome betterThe reverence and honor that is giving to these global meetings keeps me fueled to keep going and reassures me that this work is important and the world needs to see power and hear our voices!

Today we will go on work sites and see how the women of India execute their craft…more to come!

Thank you for all of your love and support!

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