Author: Subash Karki, originally posted on April 24 2017 - Sharada’s village in Nepal was destroyed by a cataclysmic earthquake in April 2015. In the aftermath she helped her neighbours rebuild their shattered homes and - with the help of a radio programme – went on to become one of a small number of professional female masons in the country.

When a major earthquake struck parts of central Nepal in April 2015, nearly all the houses in Sharada Dunawar’s village in Kavrepalanchowk were reduced to rubble. It was a terrifying experience. Her house had collapsed around her – crushing her belongings – and she had no other place to go. To ‘make sense’ of the disaster, the 24-year-old began helping her community rebuild their homes by helping clear wreckage and building temporary shelters.

She also started tuning in to BBC Media Action’s Milijuli Nepali (Together Nepal), a radio programme, providing crucial Lifeline information to earthquake survivors after Nepal’s devastating 2015 earthquakes – and sharing remarkable stories of hope and resilience from people dealing with the aftermath.

The only female construction worker in her village

Sharada says she found her ‘calling’ during the reconstruction. She decided to become a dakarmis (technically trained construction workers also known as ‘masons’). Her decision was confirmed after listening to a Milijuli Nepali episode featuring an interview with a female mason. After completing training, she became the only woman among the other 30 male masons in her village. Two years on, Sharada has helped construct 86 houses in her village.

Shirada tells me that she also relates to Maala the main character of Katha Maala (Garland of Stories), a radio drama produced by BBC Media Action. Maala used to be a milkmaid but retrained as a construction worker and visits villages, building resilient homes and educating people about safe reconstruction. “I drew inspiration from her. I’m a real-life Maala,” laughs Sharada. “I was involved in farming and now I’m a trained mason.”

Training-up other women

Sharada’s experience of building earthquake-resilient houses prompted an invitation to deliver a month-long training course to 26 women from other villages. The women she trained speak highly of her.

“It was easy to learn from a female trainer about building an earthquake resilient house, especially because we didn’t feel intimidated while asking questions,” says Shanti Chaulagain, one of the trainees.

Not only has Sharada become a role model for women in the nearby villages, she is helping bring about change in her community. Construction is seen as ‘a man’s job’ and she faced criticism for pursuing it. But Shirada is leading by example and demonstrating that a woman is capable of constructing her own house and other people’s homes too.

Not just a job for men

“Listening to Milijuli Nepali has inspired me to be active in the community, which in turn has helped me become independent,” says Sharada. She tells me she dreams of building earthquake-resilient houses for her entire village, to help protect her community from future earthquakes.

She’s still the only woman in her village working as a mason. But I hope her story – which is broadcast across Nepal on Milijuli Nepali - will inspire a whole new generation of female construction workers and show people that building houses isn’t a job just for men.

Click here to access this BBC Media Action blog and related links on their work in Nepal.

Image credit: BBC Media Action, caption: "Subash Karki, presenter, Milijuli Nepali interviews Sharada Dunawar, the only female mason in her village."

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