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HFH Vanuatu Empowers Women To Be Entrepreneurs And Home-builders

Women learn to start their own businesses, build their own houses and save for new homes

PORT VILA, 2nd March 2006: Even as the world makes uneven progress towards the achievement of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, HFH Vanuatu is making strides in the area of the third goal – promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women.

HFH Vanuatu has trained women to start their own businesses, taught them construction skills to build their own houses, and helped them to take the lead in saving for their new homes.

Viviane Licht, HFH Vanuatu’s acting national director, says: “Women can do it if we give them the chance and support.”

Hands-on: Women learning how to make bricks with the concrete interlocking block technology at a HFH Vanuatu workshop in 2005

Chipping in: Lucy Kalfau working with a volunteer at the Beverly Hills site of her new home

Head-start in business

In February 2005, HFH Vanuatu conducted a workshop for women only and taught them to produce bricks with the concrete interlocking block (CIB) technology. This is an innovative, cost-efficient method of making bricks that has been successfully imported from the Philippines.

Unlike hollow concrete blocks, leveling is not required to set these blocks in place. Instead, they’re joined by steel rebar with concrete poured through holes inside the blocks. The CIB technology saves approximately one-fifth on the cost of cement used in the average house build.

Since the women were able to make bricks, HFH Vanuatu reckoned that their skills could be turned into business opportunities. Hence the business planning workshop was born.

In April 2005, a one-month business planning workshop for women was held. Among other things, the workshop taught them how to identify business opportunities, understand capital requirements, manage cash flow and design a business plan. Since then, 20 women aged 13 to 60 have attended the workshop.

There are plans to turn the business planning workshop into a full-fledged course and open it to men when the Habitat Resource Center is set up.

Building confidence

Besides their economic contribution to the household, the Vanuatu women have also taken an active step where their housing is concerned. Seventeen women have been trained so far at the Habitat Building Center in the capital Port Vila. They can now build their own houses and help in volunteer jobs such as laying blocks.

In the two-week building course, the women not only learnt theory such as the ratio of mixing cement but also gained hands-on experience in building a house as part of their practical training.

Habitat’s Licht, who attended a previous workshop on building with the men, says: “I would like to see more women taking a greater role in construction because the women in HFH Vanuatu’s program have shown dedication, commitment and are very passionate about the construction of homes.”

She adds: “Women are the ones who are always at home. They need to design the house that they will be living in because they know best where to locate the bathroom, kitchen, etc. They need to have a safe and healthy environment for their children to grow up in.”

Saving for a future

The Habitat Save & Build program also helps to put Vanuatu women in control of their families’ future. The women, together with their family members, join a savings group and learnt good governance, leadership skills as well as money management skills.

The group saves one third of the cost of each house to be built, while HFH Vanuatu matches with two-thirds of the cost. The group continues to save the two-thirds to cover the cost and to ensure funding for building subsequent homes. A revolving fund is thus formed, key to sustaining the program.

Lucy Kalfau’s family was one such beneficiary of the Save & Build program. She used to live with her husband and two sons in a Beverly Hills shack with no indoor bathroom facilities and no proper kitchen.

When HFH Vanuatu started building what Kalfau called her dream house in early 2005, she called on other women to join the Save & Build program. The program is women’s means to a better home in the future, says Kalfau.