I recently had the opportunity to travel with 9 other women to other side of the world to Rwanda, Africa. I have never traveled that far in my entire life, so to say that it was a life-changing experience for me, is an understatement. Before I completely forget about all of the specifics of the experiences, I want to write as much down as I possibly can. Most of the women that I traveled with were smart enough to keep a daily journal while we were there, I’m not that smart. (side note: nor do I even know how to keep a journal. I feel like journaling is helpful though. The closet things to a journal entries that I have ever done were writing “Dear Diary” and then not knowing what else to write in a cute pink notebook when I was 11 or 12, watching my sister write in her diary for years and not understanding what she was doing or why, and finally…keeping up with my planner in my calendar app, which isn’t a journal at all….I’m actually pretty good at that. I digress) Anyway, looking back, I really should have kept a journal on this trip and give a nod to the smart women who did.
The company I work with partners with a non-profit organization called Bridges to Prosperity. Look ’em up, they are a really neat organization. https://bridgestoprosperity.org/ They help provide rural communities with year-round, safe access to resources like health care, education, markets and employment. One of their missions is to empower communities out of poverty. Before I went to Africa, I had never seen the type of poverty they meant.
We volunteered our time (2 weeks) to build a footbridge over the Umudasomwa River for the people of the Rukarakara, Kirwa and Ruheru communities. (I am not exactly sure if we were ever actually in any of these communities…that part confused me.) The Umudasomwa, which I don’t really know how to pronounce but I think its: Mud-a-sohm-wha., floods about 6-9 months out of the year. The flooding makes it very difficult and dangerous to cross, people have drowned, gotten hurt or had to take a 2-3 hour detour around the river to the next crossing up or down the river…just to get to school, the market, to the health clinic, or to their friend’s house for a cup of tea.
If you are wondering why all of these women went to Africa to build a footbridge, its because this was an all-women’s build that was brought on by a current ‘Women in Construction’ initiative. Its an initiative that empowers/encourages/motivates women to be active in the male-dominated construction industry. I’ve been fortunate to have a 20 year career, and counting, in the construction industry and have worked with some pretty remarkable men (and women, although there just aren’t that many of us in construction) my whole career. So yah, I am probably a feminist at heart. I fully support equal rights for women and believe that women should have the same political, social, and economic rights as men…equal pay for equal work, all that stuff. Pretty simple. BUT…shamefully…I am not always the first one to jump on the “girl-power” bandwagon, or join in women’s groups. I’ve always been content with blending in and quietly kicking ass. I guess I am saying all of this…and not even sure if I am going to leave this paragraph in here…because I was a little skeptical to apply for something labeled an ‘all women’s’ build. Having said that – this wasn’t a girl-power mission, we didn’t bitch (more than normal) about men the whole trip, we didn’t complain that our careers were falling behind our male counterparts, we didn’t spend our days speculating that we make less money than men….we just worked hard, got along, and built a bridge. We were all there with one goal in mind, and we crushed that goal.
THE WOMEN – (insert your own motivational quote here)
I don’t get to work with women that often and I can say with 100% certainty that I would work with this group of women every single day if I could. The women on our team were absolutely amazing. Smart, so smart. I felt out of place, like I was an imposter with this high-functioning group. I’m over here making fart jokes while the rest of the team was reading grown-up books and calculating complicated math formulas and journaling, for the love of God. (I’m kidding, but not really) We ranged in ages from our 20’s to 50’s. We each brought something different and valuable to the table. We were all leaders, I would venture to say that most of us were in the type A personality range, were all kind-hearted, required minimal supervision, and weren’t afraid to get dirty and push our limits mentally and physically. I am so proud to have been part of this group and get a little teary-eyed when I think about them. They are beautiful in all ways.
More to come in part 2, stay tuned.