L-r Rebecca Kema, Patricia Lautu, Mary Lawili

The journey of Patricia Iautu, Mary Iawilu — both 24 years old, and 18-year-old Rebecca Kema into the building construction field has been full of new experiences and not an easy one; however, the three young, energetic Tannese females are determined to go a long way in their careers.

In February 2022, they attended a Certificate II in Building Construction Course delivered by the Vanuatu Institute of Technology (VIT) and constructed, as part of their on-the-job training, the new TAFEA Handicraft Centre.The training was facilitated through the TAFEA Skills Centre under the Vanuatu Skills Partnership (VSP). The training was not only an opportunity to learn skills in building construction but also to build their confidence in handling construction tools and applying the skills in a real-life setting, especially in the construction of this permanent, community-focused building.

“My aunt told me about the building construction training opportunity. I filled out the form and later found out that I was selected to be part of the training,” Ms Iautu recalled.

“I believe I made the right choice to choose this pathway.”

Soon after completing the TAFEA Handicraft Centre in Lenakel, Iautu, Iawilu, and Kema with the support of the TAFEA Skills Centre, decided to register a new building construction business under the name, ‘Tafea Youngster Bargain Construction’. The business was registered in September this year with the Vanuatu Financial Services Commission (VFSC).

TAFEA Skills Centre Manager, Charlie Kichi said, “These young women have shown a lot of interest in the trade …We are so proud to be supporting women in trades, and I am sure this will not be the last opportunity to help women excel in any work area of their interest.”

Tafea Youngster Bargain Construction is now building a two-bedroom house for a family at Imailone area, between Whitegrass Airport and Lenakel town. Several stages of the house, such as the foundation, floor, and walls, are now complete, and work is commencing on the beams.

Ms Iawilu said one of the biggest challenges they face is the negative perception from men and women around the area when they are wearing safety gear such as safety boots and helmets and using power hand tools, including a circular saw, to do their work.

“We never pay attention to or listen to people’s opinions about us; we focus more on what we do. Safety is one of the new things that I learned during the training, and I look forward to sharing this knowledge with others because it is very important when it comes to construction work,” said Ms. Iawilu.

Mr. Moses Nalau, a Tannese male supervisor who provides mentor support on the current house project, said they are learning so fast and he is sure they will get better and better as they gain more experience.

Ms Kema said they all have the same goals behind their choice to learn construction. “We want to build houses for our family.” She said they are so happy that their parents have supported them since day one and keep supporting them every day when they get home from a tiring day.

“That is what keeps motivating us to continue,” she said.

“I would like to encourage other women out there, and especially in Tanna, to follow their dreams; don’t let other people’s opinions put you down.” “Our next dream is to go for further studies in building construction because we believe that there is more out there to learn.”

To see a building construction business with all builders being women is a rarity on Tanna, and could indeed be the first of its kind.

The TAFEA Handicraft Centre is a joint initiative between the Government of Australia through the VSP, and the Government of Vanuatu through the Department of Industry, the TAFEA Provincial Government, and the Nikoletan Council of Chiefs. The building has been built according to the National Building Code and will contribute to increasing business and community resilience in the face of natural disasters.