By Ana Paola van Dalen, Communications Adviser
Located in the 'hurricane corridor' and at the meeting point of several tectonic plates, the Caribbean is hit by frequent natural disasters. Since 1994, the European Commission and its humanitarian partners have been incorporating disaster risk reduction activities into their projects, with the aim of strengthening the disaster response capacity of communities and local institutions. In San Cristóbal, in the Dominican Republic, a consortium made up of Oxfam, Plan International and Habitat for Humanity has, with the financial support of the EU, run training courses on safe construction techniques, attended by local women. Thanks to this workshop, women like Sonia and Segunda will be able to improve the resilience of buildings in the area to withstand future natural disasters.
In addition to causing damage, hurricanes, floods and earthquakes tend to highlight and further exacerbate the vulnerability of local people. Traditional gender roles for men and women, gender-based division of labour and unequal access to resources can mean that many women and their families are especially vulnerable to natural disasters.
Since gender shapes capacities and resources to both prevent damage and to respond to emergencies, the participation of women in disaster risk reduction is a key component of EU humanitarian aid. With this in mind, several women builders in the municipality of San Cristóbal received training in construction techniques, with a focus on risk prevention.
The training, organised by the consortium of Oxfam, Plan International and Habitat for Humanity, with funding from the EU, lasted three months and was also supported by the Dominican Republic's National Institute for Professional Technical Training.
"I am pleased. In these three months on the course, I have learnt what problems an earthquake can cause in a badly constructed building. Now I know the right way to stop cracks from developing," explained Sonia, one of the participants.
On the course, Sonia and other women learnt about soil qualities and types, units of measurement, good construction practices, national construction standards, safety measures on site, proper handling of materials and tools and standards for electrical and sanitary installations, among other topics. From now on these women builders, who often build houses for their neighbours, will be able to make them more resistant to the disasters that frequently hit the Dominican Republic (such as tropical storm Isaac, which destroyed homes in August 2012).
Sonia studied law, but for the last four years she has been working as a master builder in her district, Madre Vieja. She decided to extend her mother's house, and it was then that she realised that she enjoyed building walls, as well as gaining an additional source of income. Since then, she has carried out some alterations in her neighbours' houses.
Segunda, Sonia's friend, has been in the trade for 22 years. Throughout this time she has carried out many different types of construction. As she explains, her training was "purely practical, on the job". She adds: "But now, thanks to the course, I can read plans. I have also found out that positioning reinforcement bars, which I thought I was doing properly, has its own special technique. I have also improved my mixes for beams, foundations and slabs."
For Sonia and Segunda, the training has been the first recognition they have received in their professional building careers. Their houses will now be safer, and they will be better prepared for hurricanes, floods and earthquakes. As a result, their communities will be more resilient.