The school building worksite in Haiti can be a tough and chaotic place. There are endless hours of digging, mixing concrete by hand, and passing hundreds of heavy rocks. But every morning when our team showed up to start construction, Verose was the first to jump into the action and pass us a shovel. Her grit, determination and leadership were contagious, despite a lifetime of challenges.
“Anything a man can do, women can do,” she explained, recalling her recent separation from her husband. During their marriage, Verose was solely expected to cook, clean and do all the domestic work with no time to challenge herself outside of the home. Realizing that she was compromising her own happiness, she initiated the split. But it was not an easy task in her village, where it has traditionally been unheard of for a woman to stand up for herself.
But that started to change when buildOn arrived last year to build the first of two schools. One of the first steps in constructing a buildOn school is for the community to elect a Project Leadership Committee made up of equal numbers of men and women. Verose jumped at the opportunity to participate and has since taken on a leadership role in her village’s committee.
I asked her about her role within the Project Leadership Committee while we dug the new school’s foundation. She giggled, “Well I do a little bit of everything; there is never a task too big for me.” Some of her duties have included overseeing the operations of the current school, finding land to build on, and coordinating material deliveries for the construction.
Verose is also sending her son and daughter to school and attending classes herself through buildOn’s Adult Literacy Program four nights a week. At 48, Verose worried that it might be too late to learn, but reassured herself, “I go anyway, because education is only going to make my life better. My parents refused to send me to school when I was young because they needed my help with farming, and I missed out on my dream of becoming a dressmaker. Now that I am beginning to read and write, I am realizing my potential as a leader and want to ensure that no children in our village have to miss out on their dreams.”
The fact that La Glace Village is building a second school within one year is due to exceptional leadership, a commitment to providing every child an education and an amazing ability to rally the entire community around the school – qualities that Verose personally embodies.
Asked what advice she had for the girls of the village, Verose shared some wise words and her hope for the village’s future: “Our girls need to focus on their studies and work hard for their chosen profession, but so do our boys. Everyone, regardless of gender should take advantage of their education, so in the future, missing out on schooling is not even an option. It takes both men and women working together to ensure that.”
The mission of buildOn is to break the cycle of poverty, illiteracy and low expectations through service and education. During my recent month in Haiti, our buildOn team helped break ground on a new school in the village of La Glace. Verose's story embodies the spirit of International Women’s Day and buildOn’s work to empower women across the globe. To get involved with buildOn, go to www.buildon.org.