‘What a man can do, a woman can also do’



The popular saying, ‘what a man can do, a woman can do better’ has played out with a pregnant female carpenter who against all odds took up roofing job to ensure her kids are well -catered for. ENE OSANG writes.

Carpentry is not a skill any woman would venture into, like we see female artisans in other vocations, but 30-year old Hannah Terry, a mother of three, has distinguished herself in this field as she opted to raise money for the needs of kids, since her husband left them.

Though with her masculine feature, one could call her a tomboy as most females with such features are called, or mistake her for a male, she decided to make good use of her God-given body to pay her bills.

Terry is fairly tall, dark-complexioned and masculine; she prefers to be on low cut and with a gait which can make anyone mistake her for the opposite sex, especially at a first glance. She is determined to make a mark in her male-dominated profession.

How it all started

Speaking to a couple of journalists who met her at a worksite in Abuja, the Nasarawa state indigene said she found herself in carpentry profession by mistake, but chose to be committed to it after finding out that it pays better than the tailoring she had earlier learnt.

Recalling her father’s demise many years ago, she said she and her siblings were raised by her mother “in the most difficult situation,” adding, “Things were very difficult, growing up was not easy at all.” Being the first child, she had been told from a very young age that she needed to do anything she could to help her family, and so she learned tailoring in order to assist her mother, but the job “wasn’t paying well.”

“Tailoring at that time was not giving me the money I needed. My family was in dire need of money. If I had continued with tailoring, I would not have met up with the needs of my family and I was like the head of the family at that time so I had to think of other options,” she said.

Terry said her uncle was a carpenter and she was always at his shop when she was younger, and always played with his tools, but never knew she was already learning the job.

“Then in my village (at Akwanga local government of Nasarawa state), one of my uncles was a carpenter, who makes furniture. I used to go to his shop, but I was not really there to learn at the time. Whenever I came back from his workshop, I would carry saw and cut wood to make small stools. When my mother moved us to Masaka, I started making small stools and saving boxes for sell.”

She said further that while doing the carpentry work by the side, she also helped her mother to sell food at building sites, adding that whenever she had the time, she watched the carpenters do the roof.

Her carpentry skill was not tested until her family moved to Gishiri in the federal capital territory (FCT) and there was need to do some roofing in the new house they had rented.

“When I went to a construction site, I told one man that I was a carpenter, but he doubted me. He, however, gave me a job in Maitama to try me out and I surprised him by doing a good job and I got more jobs.”

Husband’s doubts, belief

Terry added that people doubted her being a carpenter, adding that her husband, a Togolese, whom she married in 2008, refused to believe her when she told him she wanted to do carpentry full time.

“Like I said, I have been doing the job from when I was around 19 years old, but my partner didn’t know as we were not living together because he was a chef and had to stay in the residence where he was working most of the time. One day, he was watching the NTA when they interviewed me and he saw me on the job, and that was how he believed me.”

Tragedy

Things began to look rosy for Terry until her mother took ill. She said she spent all that she had saved on her mother’s illness, and regrettably the mother didn’t survive it. While she was still trying to put herself together, her husband woke up one morning and left her with their two children and a pregnancy.

According to her, things started getting more difficult, but she continued to work even she was almost due for child birth.

“At eight months, I was still climbing the roofs. There was a time I climbed the roof and noticed that the wood was about to give way because of my weight and I had to come down and then allowed my workers to continue with the work.”

She said giving birth to her baby was not easy due to complications, adding that her husband was not on hand to help, leaving her at the mercy of a few friends who rallied round to see her and the baby.

“I called my husband when I put to bed to inform him of the development; meanwhile I had already incurred bill of N40, 000. He sent only N10, 000. It was one of my friends who I called and pleaded with that helped me. My husband told the hospital to send their account number, but he never sent any money to them.

“When we were out of the hospital, whenever I called he just refused to pick my call. If I used another phone number to call he would pick up, but when he realised it’s my voice, he would cut the call. I consequently deleted his number. Now, I don’t know where he is.

“Before Christmas last year, he called and promised his children that he would come, but he never did. My son now always tells me that his daddy can lie.”

More difficulties, return to work

Terry said she had to leave her baby at home before he was three months with her older children to start working, but she could only get small jobs to get reasonable money to solve major problems.

“I had to withdraw my two children from school, and they have been staying at home for almost 18 months. My first boy is ten and my second child, a girl, is seven. I wanted to enroll them this year, but I hadn’t enough money and the term had gone by half and then the lockdown occasioned by Covid-19. I am planning to put them in school when school resumes fully, by God’s grace.”

She said further that she would have opted to put her children in a government school, but that none was close to the area where they live. For now, her children have been helping her by taking care of her little baby while she goes out seeking daily bread.

“If I go to work, it is my children that stay with the baby. If I am working close by they will bring him for me to breastfeed when he is hungry. Anytime I go for outside work I usually buy milk for my baby and that’s what my other children feed him with until I get back.”

According to Terry, most times people refused to give her jobs because she was a nursing mother, and that she sometimes had to plead and even reduce charges in order to get jobs.

“If I got out to meet someone that needed my services, after seeing me they would refuse to give me the job. I’d then try very hard to convince them to give me the job. Sometimes this worked for me; I usually charged much less because they normally didn’t feel I could do the job. Sometimes I would even go to the point of telling them that I would refund their money if they were not satisfied.”

Terry stated that so far, no one had asked for refund after work, rather she gets commended for doing a good job , adding that even at that, many people still doubted her, and often times she was chided because the site owners thinks she is slow.

“I am often being shouted at because they think I am slow on the job, I am not as fast as some other Carpenters but my work comes out the best. I usually tell clients and colleagues on the job that it is not just about being fast to complete the job but it is about getting the perfect job. If you rush the work, you might come back for maintenance. In my work, I usually don’t come back for maintenance because I always take my time to do a perfect job.”

 She added that the good side of all she does is the extra money she earns when people feel satisfied with her work.

“At one time in Asokoro, one man was at the corridor of his house when he sighted me on the roof. He went inside his house, called his wife to come see me too. They were shocked. There was even one that was so amazed that he gave me some money that day. 

“He said he loved my courage. He asked the site engineer if I was a man or a woman. He asked me about myself and promised to bring something for me when next he came to site. He fulfilled his promise and the money came when I really needed it.”

Hope

Terry expressed the hope for better jobs ahead to enable her to put her children back to school when school resumes.

“I know the importance of education and my primary goal is to see my children back to school and never be out until they complete their education. I also wish to be able to send my younger brother back to school because he had also stopped since she couldn’t pay the fees.

For her, re-marrying is not a priority and might even not want her husband back as her only wish is that wherever he is he should take responsibility for the children he brought into the world.

“I am not considering re-marrying because an adage said, ‘once beaten twice shy.’ If fire burns you, you won’t go back to it again. It isn’t necessary for me. My children are my priority for now; I pray for better-paying clients and opportunities.”

Govt’s programmes

The National Centre for Women Development (NCWD) new director- general, Barrister Mary Ekpere-Etta, established a programme for training female artisans in different vocations as a means of empowering them.

Ekpere-Etta at the opening ceremony in Abuja said the project is in recognition that women’s economic empowerment is the first step to freedom. She gave the assurance that the Centre was “committed to raising a viable and skilled workforce to meet the challenges of unemployment in the country.”

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