Kelly McClellen, IUOE 101 and member of HWIT- Heartland Women in the Trades, was a Delegate on the 2017 Building Bridges Tradeswomen’s trip to India. Kelly is a leader in making global connections with tradeswomen. At Women Build Nations 2017 in Chicago, the Building Bridges Delegation invited two tradeswomen advo-
cates who we had met in India to attend the conference and share their knowledge of women working in construction in India. See our post on their visit from last year.
Kelly hosted our two guests for a couple of days after the conference. She invited a few other US tradeswomen to join the group for dinner at an Indian restaurant one night and that is when she met her now very good friend, Marie Fletcher Olson, journeyman Ironworker from Local 118 in Sacramento. Marie told Kelly a fascinating story of tradeswomen making connections from Sacramento to the Philippines. Kelly asked Marie to tell us that story here.
Some years ago, I was injured at work and was placed in the office for over a month. I was scanning friends’ pages on Facebook when I came across Melody Lavarez, a welder in the Philippines. I reached out and asked her how she became a welder. We began a conversation that started over a few days and continues today. Melody’s dream is to help women. We worked together to build a website to find women welders in the Philippines. I suggested that, because her country in some parts is against unions, we get enough women in the group before we go public. We got over a hundred women involved through the website. This is when I asked Pat Williams, retired Operating Engineer from Los Angeles, and Melina Harris, Carpenter from Sisters in the Building Trades, to get involved and help me unite us with the Filipino women. Pat spent many many hours mentoring Melody and Melina was able to connect through the Carpenters and the Builders and Woodworkers International (BWI). With support from BWI, Melody and the women welders were able to form their own organization, “Pinay Tradeswomen.” They now have over 300 members and are affiliated with the National Union of Building and Construction Workers (NUBCW).
This past year, Americans sisters in the building trades went to the Philippines to meet with Melody and her sister welders.
I could not attend as I was in OSHA safety programs preparing to teach all-women ironworking classes here in the states. Melody is now working on the first ever all-women construction team on the Philippines including female engineers. They hope to start a training school built by women and run solely by women. They are still in need of a working truck and welding equipment to make this happen. Melina has sent a small shipment of tools and donations from the American sisters in the trades to them.
I am grateful for the advice from both Pat Williams and Melina Harris and for their help in fighting to make the dream possible—the dream of Filipino women from Manila and all the other provinces of the Philippines to move together to make their country more employable for women. Some women still go to work and hide as men to work in the construction trade, but it is so much better then when we started making connections.
Melody has done many TV shows explaining the sisters in the trades and how, by sticking together, women can change their working conditions. These women are more than wives who stay at home and raise babies and take care of sick people. They are women working to support their families. Melody dreams of volunteering to rebuild schools, housing, hospitals and churches. My dream is to help her succeed. We have yet to meet in person but we talk on the phone and message each other every week.
See Melody talking about women, leadership and the power of women here. Hopefully, Melody, Marie and Kelly will all meet in a couple of years at the International Tradeswomen’s Conference! Still in the talking stage but stay tuned here as information develops.