Goma — In the Democratic Republic of Congo, few people are surprised when a woman drops her apron for a job to help support her household. But many were surprised when Maombi Aristide chose to become a bricklayer.
Aristide, 34, is a mother of six who realized that her family could no longer manage on her husband's salary alone. Working for the Congolese National Police, he did not earn enough to pay for their children's education.
DRC's persisting socio-economic crisis has forced many Congolese women to seek an incoming-generating activity to help make ends meet at home. Maombi is certainly not a unique case. But her choice of job was. Bricklaying is still seen as an exclusively male trade in such a traditional and conservative society like DRC.
From vending to bricklaying
Before entering the construction industry, Maombi sold snacks on the streets of Goma. She made around three dollars a day, with one dollar being spent on the 15-kilometre trip to and from her home in Ndosho. This meagre income was barely enough to put food on the table.
But Maombi found inspiration for her future job in the Rwandan city of Gisenyi, near Goma, after crossing the border to look up an old neighbour. She found her working on a construction site where all the bricklayers were women. With no man to guide or supervise them, the women's determination and independence made a deep impression on Maombi.
"These Rwandan women inspired me, especially their dynamism," she recalls. "That same evening when I returned home I told my husband about it and decided to change my activities."
Maombi first worked for a few months as an intern assistant bricklayer for the renovation of the school she attended as a child. Once completed, the school began offering a new course encouraging women and girls to take up careers in construction. Maombi jumped at the opportunity and, through her teachers, she found her next job on a construction site.
A better income, a better life
Maombi's living conditions have improved considerably with the six to eight dollars she now earns per day. She has no reason to miss her hawking days. Thanks to her financial contribution, her family can now afford both education and healthcare.
Her husband is proud of her. Maombi now also has more time for her children since she works closer to home and no longer has to undertake long and costly bus commutes.
"My husband didn't like it when I was selling on the streets because I would often come home late at night, when the younger children were already asleep," she explains.
Her eldest daughter is now 14 and wants to follow in her mother's footsteps by taking construction courses at the school. She is only waiting for her father's approval. How could he possibly say no?