IDEJEN graduate finds success as construction manager

Photo by Fabrizio CocchianoJenna

Go find Jenna.

Jenna is the best mason.

Jenna was a 20-year-old woman. How could she possibly be the best mason in town? The American expatriate charged with finding a top mason expected to find an older man, perhaps one whose body showed clear signs of years of hard labor. After all, the mason would be overseeing the masons working on construction of a large wall to enclose a two-acre compound for Samaritan’s Purse, an international relief organization that would be based in Grand Goave, Haiti, a small town next to earthquake-ravaged Léogane. Unconvinced that this shy, soft-spoken young woman with beautiful braids and clear skin could take on such a task, he went back to continue the search, asking even more people throughout Grand Goave to name the best mason in town.  

“Consistently, everyone said Jenna,” said Betsy Hall, Deputy Country Director of Samaritan’s Purse.

Still skeptical, the American hired Ladieuna Septembre, who goes by Jenna, on a temporary basis, giving her one month to prove herself. She has now been working for Samaritan’s Purse for five months. She has overseen the masonry portion of the construction of not only the compound wall, but also a commercial kitchen, two bathrooms, and other projects, far exceeding the expectations of the man who hired her. “We are keeping her because she can oversee any national workers that we have,” said Hall. “She is a great, great boss.”

Only a couple of years before, Jenna was a far cry from being anyone’s boss. Forced to drop out of school after only two years of primary education due to lack of funds to cover school fees, she lacked the skills needed to earn a viable income.

In 2007, a friend recommended that she join the Haitian Out-of-School Youth Livelihood Initiative (IDEJEN), a USAID-funded project implemented by Education Development Center, and her life began to change. “I wasn’t doing anything [before IDEJEN],” she said. “[With IDEJEN] I learned a lot of things: reading, writing, and a trade. I changed my behavior. I became a harder worker.”

Photo by Fabrizio CocchianoWith a supervisor’s salary, Jenna’s life and the lives of her family members have changed dramatically. In addition to supporting her single mother, who has no income, and her two brothers, Jenna will be able to pay for herself and her brothers to return to school, and she can now envisage a bright future for herself and her family. “Thanks to the masonry that I learned in the training center, I am earning a living,” she said. “I think I will go far—the more experience I have, the more responsibility I will be given.”

At the heaviest period of construction for Samaritan’s Purse, Jenna has overseen 65 workers (including five other IDEJEN youth graduates), tracking their hours and payroll and ensuring that they complete their tasks on time. Following the completion of the primary construction, Samaritan’s Purse found ways to keep Jenna employed, asking her to manage workers for other projects on the compound, such as construction of walkways or drainage ditches. According to Hall, Jenna is able to manage local staff very successfully, and her supervisor relies on her a great deal. “She is very shy, yet people listen to her. She is very clear with directions, and she motivates her staff and sets timelines,” Hall said.

Jenna had developed a strong reputation as a mason while helping to construct a school for girls in Grand Goave, but she never imagined that she would become a construction manager. “I didn’t think I was capable of becoming a big boss,” she said. “It’s thanks to IDEJEN and the trainer [who had instructed Jenna and was one of the people who recommended her for the position]. Without the skills I learned through IDEJEN, I wouldn’t have been able to manage the work site.”

After learning that Jenna was an out-of-school youth who had participated in the IDEJEN program, Hall said that she has faith in IDEJEN youth and would hire them for future projects. Of Jenna, Hall said she is qualified enough to hold a senior management position. “She’s very well-qualified for what she does,” Hall said. “If we do a permanent reconstruction program involving masonry, we would strongly consider Jenna for a senior management position.

“We are very, very, very grateful for Jenna. This is a compound. It was a fallen down hotel when we got it. And now, we have cleared that, and it is a base, housing 50 expatriates. Jenna was a key essential part to making that happen in the timeframe that it has. She’s phenomenal.”

Jenna said that she congratulates and celebrates IDEJEN. “When the youth in my community see what I have accomplished, they ask when the IDEJEN program will come back to the community so that they can become like me.”