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!

Archan poster

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The 2019 Tradeswomen Building Bridges Delegation to India arrives in Kerala on Nov. 2: Meet the Delegates

The 2019 Delegation is made of 12 women from the US and Canada and a researcher. They will be spending 5 days with the women of the Archana Women’s Centre and, the following weekend, with leaders and workers of KKNCT, the Kerala affiliate of the Builders and Wood Workers International (BWI) labor federation.

Delegation members will be posting here and keeping everyone informed on their facebook page, Tradeswomen Building Bridges. Follow and share the stories from these tradeswomen leaders.

MEET THE DELEGATES

Noreen Buckley

Noreen

 

I am a 3rd year electrical apprentice in San Francisco – Local 6, co-chair of our women committee and was lucky to be part of the 1st delegation to India in 2017. I am excited to return this year and continue the good work of raising the visibility of Global Tradeswomen! 

 

Amber McCoy

AmberAmber McCoy is a journey level Union Carpenter from Portland Oregon. They indentured into the Carpenters apprenticeship in 2006 and graduated with Honors in 2010. McCoy is an Instructor with Pacific NW Carpenters Institute and hold many positions, elected and appointed, in the Union and in Local politics. 

 

 

 

 

Amanda Kay Johnson

AmandaHas worked in construction for the last 6.5 years and is currently employed as a second year apprentice with the NYC District Council of Carpenters in Local Union 157.  During her time as an apprentice, she has both completed her Masters Degree in Civil Engineering and Construction Management at NJ Institute of Technology and been a part of multiple committees within her union and trades leadership conferences.  In addition to her life as a carpenter, Amanda Kay enjoys traveling all over the world, getting lost in nature, writing poetry and music, spending time with her family, and propelling the international tradeswoman movement forward. 

 

Jenna Lipinski

Jenna

 

 

Greetings! My name is Jenna Lipinski, I am born and raised in Regina, SK Canada. I am a Bricklayer and Executive Board Member of BAC Local 1 Saskatchewan and Chair of the Build Together Saskatchewan Chapter. 

 

 

 

Kathryn (Katy) Rhodes

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My name is Kathryn (Katy) Rhodes and I’m a fourth year apprentice electrician with IBEW 213. I’m a member of our women’s committee as well as Build TogetHER and am heavily involved in efforts to recruit and retain women in trades. With these organizations I have headed a volunteer work weekend to support WISH (an outreach centre for women of the downtown east side of Vancouver BC) as well as several trade shows and girl guide/brownie (similar to Girl Scouts) outreach. I’m so excited to be a part of this badass group of women working together to lift each other up. 

 

 

Antoniette “Ant” Yap

Ant

 

Always on the run but never from the law…Antoniette jumps towards any opportunity to explore, learn, contribute, and inspire especially in situations so far from her comfort zone. When driving in an air cooled beetle from Vancouver to Florida, Antoniette traded in her desk job for something a little more fun… being a union Millwright.

 

Julie Enman

JUlie

 

Julie is a Red Seal Carpenter/farmer, who meanders between teaching, work in the humanitarian aid sector, and of course carpentry.  When not doing those things, Julie spends time playing fiddle or with fire.  Julie is also good at drinking beer while listening to brutal metal.

Veronica Godinez

Veronica

 

JourneyWoman Cement Mason with 20+ yrs in the Trades as a Concrete Finisher, Instructor, later Safety Coordinator then Manager and now Apprenticeship Director. Member of Local 400 and the Steel Edge Women of the OPCMIA. Excited to join this amazing delegation with the common goal of empowering the advancement of all women.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Denise Dauvin

denise

 

My name is Denise Dauvin and I work as an Industrial Electrician at a Pulpmill in Prince George, British Columbia. I have worked in Industry for almost 30 years supporting my two daughters and myself. I am hoping to set an example and make changes in industry for future generations of young girls.
I am excited for this opportunity in India, and meeting the amazing women in this group.

 

 

Cassandra Klewicki

Cassandra

 

Cassandra is a carpentry apprentice out of Local 290 from Long Island, New York. This is her second time travelling to India. She is an organizer for Suffolk County chapter of the  Democratic Socialists of America and a member of the Suffolk County Planned Parenthood Emerging Leaders Council.

 

 

Jan Jenson

Jan

 

Retired ironworker – 25+ years!  1976-2003. Happily transplanted to Apache Junction, AZ

Photojournalist since 1958.  Dual career with ironworking – still taking pics & writing stories!

Health coach since 1968.

 

 

Chantal Krcmar

Chantal

 

Chantal Krcmar is a PhD candidate in the Department of Global Governance, Human Security and Conflict Resolution at the University of Massachusetts – Boston. The focus of her dissertation is the Human Security of Indian women who work in the construction industry. Though her last port of call was Somerville, MA, Chantal, her husband Rahul, and daughter Anamika are currently living in Mumbai.

 

 

 

Susan Fischer

Susan

Susan Fischer is a professional florist. Over the course of her nearly 30 year career she has worked in every aspect of the industry. The need to document her creations and network with suppliers has led her to become an amateur photographer and a world traveler.

 

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Still Building Bridges: US Tradeswomen are returning to India

In November 2019, a delegation of tradeswomen from around the United States will be joining women construction workers in Kerala India for Building Bridges: The 2019 Tradeswomen’s Training Exchange. The trip will be led by Carpenter Amanda Johnson of New York City, Electrician Noreen Buckley of San Francisco and Carpenter Amber McCoy of Portland, OR. A dozen other tradeswomen, including bricklayers, plumbers, millwrights and laborers have applied to join the delegation. Details are being finalized. The Training Exchange will be hosted by the Archana Women’s Centre in Kerala where women have received training in masonry and carpentry for several decades. The beautiful building that houses the Centre was built by women.2 (1000x750)_10

Following the Training Exchange between the women of Archana and the US tradeswomen, the delegation will go on to meet with union affiliates of the Builders and Woodworkers International (BWI). “The BWI is the Global Union Federation grouping free and democratic unions with members in the Building, Building Materials, Wood, Forestry and Allied sectors.”  BWI representatives participated in the 2017 Building Bridges Delegation’s Conference at VV Giri Labour Institute in Noida, India and attended the 2018 Women Build Nations Conference in Seattle. Along with the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), BWI has recently published a report, Count Us In! Women Leading Change,” about the need for greater power for and leadership by women in the global trade union movement. BWI is also in discussions with Building Bridges and many other tradeswomen’s groups on a plan for an international conference for women working in the construction trades in 2020.

Stay tuned for updates on the Building Bridges Tradeswomen’s Training Exchange.

Here are a couple of excerpts from Count Us In!

  • “Trade unions stand at the vanguard of resisting corporate greed, rebuilding peace and democracy and establishing social, economic and gender justice. If we are to succeed, we need to transform our own organisations. Whilst progress is being made, there are still far too few women in positions of power and influence in the decision-making bodies of trade unions.” page 2.
  • “The importance of creating networks for women in trade unions cannot be overstated. Whether at a local, sectoral, national or international level, whether online or offline, they not only allow women to strategise and support one another, but they also provide vital access to leadership roles and elected positions. There are some within the union movement who still ask: ‘Why do you need a separate gender department?’ or ‘What’s the point of a women’s committee?’ but these structures are crucial safe spaces for the incubation of gender equality policies and the next generation of female leaders. One of the major challenges, however, lies in ensuring that unions integrate gender equality throughout their organisational agendas and structures – and this way successfully transforming the movement.” page 14.

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How Marie Met Melody: Sisters in the Trades Making Global Connections

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-

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Kelly McClellen

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.

Marie’s story:

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.

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Marie has been recognized as a founder of Pinay Tradeswomen

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.

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Women welders in the Philippines

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.

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What’s happening with Building Bridges with the women construction workers of India… and across the world?

It has been a long time between posts. Over the past year, I have been more focused on the work in the US of “crushing the barriers of women’s access to good jobs in the union construction trades.” apps 2018We have more then tripled the number of women in union construction in Massachusetts and we are working with sisters across the country and Canada on our goal of 20% tradeswomen by 2020. Here’s a picture of our progress in Massachusetts. You can learn more about this at PGTI: The Policy Group on Tradeswomen’s Issues and Build A Life that Works.

But the international connections continue to be built.

Through social media, Melena Harris of Sisters in the Building Trades made contact with tradeswomen who were organizing in the Philippines. Women welders led the way for tradeswomen to organize themselves into the Pinay Tradeswomen. (See more on this story on page 10 of the Pride and a Paycheck Magazine from 2016.) Melena then connected the women in the Philippines with the Builders and Woodworkers International (BWI) and their Philipines affiliate, the National Union of Building and Construction Workers. BWI is a “Global Union Federation grouping free and democratic unions with members in the Building, Building Materials, Wood, Forestry and Allied sectors.” In other words, an international union for construction workers. BWI has a large presence in India. Representatives supported the Building Bridges Delegation to India in 2017 and attended the Building Bridges 2017: The International Tradeswomen’s Conference in India.

300414A circle was closed when BWI helped to pull together the Manila Tradeswomen Gathering in Quezon City this past March 4. A delegation of US tradeswomen also attended the Gathering after first going to Australia for a conference with tradeswomen there.

 

Next steps to building an international network of women working in the construction trades:

  • In BWI, we now have an international construction-based organization that will take leadership and devote resources to building the global network that many of us have worked on– with slim support– for many years. BWI is pro-union and pro-women with an active program to grow women’s leadership.
  • A meeting will be convened at Women Build Nations by BWI and Jin Sook Lee, BWI’s Global Campaign Director, in October in Seattle.
  • The Building Bridges Delegation is planning a Training Exchange with the Archana Women’s Centre in Kerala, India for the fall of 2019. This will be an opportunity for 8-10 US tradeswomen to spend a week at Archana learning about South Indian techniques in masonry and carpentry and providing the tradeswomen of Archana with introductory workshops on electricity and plumbing. We hope to also connect with BWI affiliates in Kerala to learn more about women working in construction in the region. More information will available soon.

Meanwhile the women construction workers of India continue to work under horrendously unsafe conditions. Last week, a building under construction in Ghaziabad collapsed killing one worker. Two women construction workers and their children were among the nine injured. A week earlier, nine were killed including a women and two children, when a building under construction in Noida collapsed.

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“Utilise the fund:” Members of Tamil Nadu All India Trade Union Congress Construction Workers Association staging a demonstration in Madurai on Monday.   | Photo Credit: G_Moorthy

Yesterday, Monday, July 30, women construction workers staged demonstrations in Tamil Nadu. Members of Tamil Nadu All India Trade Union Congress Construction Workers’ Association have organized and protested for decades to protect the rights of women construction workers to their legally mandated benefits. All across India, only a fraction of the funds collected for the Construction Workers Welfare Boards is being distributed to the workers. These and other injustices are faced by women construction workers across the world. We will all be stronger when the international organization of tradeswomen is stronger.

 

 

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The tradeswomen of the US delegation to India have been busy

We were able to bring two guests, Vrishali Pipati, Director of Mumbai Mobile Creches in Mumbai, and Thresiamma Mathew, Director of the Archana Women’s Centre in Kerala. Mumbai Mobile Creches is one several organizations across India that have been setting up childcare centers on construction sites for the children of migrant construction workers for almost 50 year. Archana has been training women in the masonry and carpenter trades for 30 years. The Centre itself was built entirely by women. An interview with Ms. Mathew about the work of Archana has just been published here.

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Before the conference, our guests spent time in St. Louis hosted by Carpenter Beth Barton and Missouri Women in the Trades (MOWIT). They visited the Bricklayers Local 1 apprentice training center and the carpenters training center, toured a Tarlton worksite at Washington University, attended a reception in their honor and saw a bit of St. Louis.

On Thursday, the tradeswomen of St. Louis and our India guests jumped in a van for the 6 hour drive to Chicago to spend the weekend with 1800 tradeswomen at Women Build Nations.

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The tradeswomen of Building Bridges organized two workshops at the conference, one on their 16 day trip to India last January and on future ideas for tradeswomen returning to India and the second on building global networks for women working in construction. The global workshop included women from India, Canada and Ireland and reports on tradeswomen organizing in Australia and the Phillipines. There was a lot of interest among many women in being part of future delegations of rank and file tradeswomen and in building networks with women working in construction around the world.

In the final session of the conference, the Building Bridges Delegation joined Thresiamma and Vrishali on stage as they addressed the participants in the plenary session.

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Operating Engineers Kelly McClellen and Holly Brown played final hosts in Chicago after the conference with a visit to the Operating Engineers ginormous indoor training center and finally a bit of tourist time. Vrishali and Thresiamma flew home this past Wednesday.

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We hope to have our sisters and even more international representatives attend the next Women Build Nations when it happens in Seattle.

 

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