On Saturday 4th December, four members of the 6th cohort of Homeward Bound met with 13 young women studying at the St Ignace de Loyola School in Bedou, Haiti. We talked using Microsoft Teams, exchanging our experiences as women in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, maths, and medicine). We shared our paths into STEMM subjects, talked about beekeeping, and considered how to continue this conversation in the future, as we introduce this next generation of leaders into our network.
When I first started Homeward Bound, I asked colleagues to connect me with people that might be interested to hear more about this Global Leadership programme for Women in STEMM. I didn’t have a specific agenda but was keen to see how I could raise the visibility of the programme and learn from others working towards similar goals.
Emilio Travieso, a Jesuit priest based in Haiti, got in touch. Emilio had previously completed his DPhil in International Development at the University of Oxford, and we have colleagues in common. He is now based in Haiti supporting the St Ignace de Loyola School, including in activities to encourage young women into STEMM subjects. The school uses beekeeping to teach the students about different aspects of science and technology, while providing a mechanism to raise money by selling honey. Beekeeping is common in Haiti, but usually seen as a male occupation. The school, led by Carmen Rodriguez, a Chilean nun and trained beekeeper, is encouraging the girls to get involved, and in doing so, is nurturing their interest in science and technology, and allowing them to consider what they might like to do in the future.
The call with Homeward Bound participants allowed the students to hear about different careers in STEMM subjects and think aloud about some of their dreams and aspirations, and the conversation was wonderful.
We talked about different types of engineering, and what inspired us to get started in the first place – for Noa Bruhis, a set of car keys when she turned 16, and the challenge to rebuild the engine before she could drive the car. We discussed problems that affect everyone, like water, energy, health and food, and the role that women can play in solving them. And how the biology and chemistry we learn at school matters for real-life issues.
And crucially, we talked about the challenge women in STEMM face, and our experiences working in male-dominated professions – and that this wasn’t just a phenomenon in Haiti, but all over the world.
After the call, the young women, some of whom had walked for two hours to participate, stayed talking together about what they had learned, and what they were now inspired to do. They’ve agreed to keep meeting together to continue these discussions and encourage each other to follow their dreams – driven by Emer Dennehy’s assertion that they should believe in themselves. They want to set up a programme for recycling, to learn from Claudia Alvarado’s advice about turning waste into new things – like plastic bricks made from bottles filled with plastic bags; and to keep meeting with us, to talk more about our experiences and the opportunities that might be available to them. For our part, the conversation again showed how much is to be gained from women supporting women, and the value there is to extend this network, with partners from around the world, to figure out new ways we can build a better future.