The women at the forefront of climate-friendly construction in Africa’s refugee settlements.
International award-winning charity, HYT Uganda marks International Women’s Day by celebrating the women in Uganda who are at the leading edge of sustainable innovation.
Educating girls is central to breaking the cycle of poverty in developing countries. In Uganda’s urban hubs women are advancing their cause in equality of education and opportunity. There is still work to be done, however, in rural areas and in the vast refugee settlements in the north and west of the country. Here women are expected to marry young, have large families, and give any money they make selling surplus crops to their husbands, fathers, or brothers.
Construction is a male-dominated industry and this, together with Uganda’s patriarchal society, makes it rare to see women on building sites. The Uganda-based charity, however, is changing all this and an increasing number of women are joining the Ashden Award-Winning charity’s environmentally-friendly construction and training programmes. The results have been impressive.
As part of International NGO, Mercy Corps BRIDGE project, refugee Florence Ropani, was one of HYT’s first cohort of refugee trainees in 2019, having fled her home in South Sudan three years earlier. Florence and her two children, aged 4 and 7, were separated from Florence’s husband during their final days in South Sudan and she has had no contact with him since. On completing her training, Florence was employed on a Mercy Corps building project in Bidi Bidi, Africa’s largest settlement and home to 240,000 refugees. Soon afterwards, Florence joined HYT in a full-time training role herself, helping train more refugees in the sustainable construction of rainwater harvesting tanks, supplying refugee schools with clean water, using HYT’s innovative compressed earth technology, the Interlocking Stabilised Soil Block.
Florence says, ‘HYT helped me a lot, the skills allow me to raise an income. I am now able to buy clothes for the children, change the diet at home and even buy bedding. What I lost in South Sudan I am able to regain some here.’
At the age of 17, South Sudenese refugee Rose Ropani was forced to leave her home town of Morobo with her parents and three year old daughter. Rose’s husband was caught up in the fighting, the two were separated and Rose is unsure whether or not her husband is still alive.
Arriving in Bidi Bidi in 2016, Rose first volunteered as a child protection volunteer for refugee children. In 2020, Rose was encouraged to join HYT’s training programme by her friend and recent ‘graduate,’ Florence. The pair worked together installing 10 rainwater harvesting tanks in schools and health centres across Bidi Bidi.
Since her training, Rose has been recruited by the UN refugee agency and now works as a mason on a large construction project in the settlement.
‘I enjoyed learning how to make climate-friendly blocks, how to mix mortar and use cement,’ Rose says. ‘The money from my construction jobs has allowed me to buy clothes and medicine for my daughter. I’ve been able to change the diet of my family so we no longer rely only on the World Food Programme. My parents are proud of me for working and I hope my daughter will be too.’
These pioneering women builders take their lead from HYT’s Country Manager, Mauricia Nambatya, herself a civil engineer and Commonwealth Scholar. Mauricia has been impressed with the successes of her latest recruits.
‘HYT’s women trainees put an extra focus on learning the art of sustainable construction, overcoming societal perceptions and bring an impressive attention to detail to their work as builders and trainers,’ Mauricia says. ‘The women are determined to overcome the odds in the construction industry.’