By The Observer Staff

(Basseterre, St. Kitts) – An effort by the public and private sectors has given 19 women who formerly worked in the sugar cane industry a set of skills they can use to enhance their employment opportunities and their personal lives.

The workers participated in a training project sponsored by the Organization of American States called, “Livelihood Creation for Women Made Redundant by the Closure of the Sugar Industry.” The training sessions were coordinated by the Department of Gender Affairs within the Ministry of Social and Community Development.

The participants were trained in upholstery and tiling, which can help them find work in the booming construction sector, according to a release from the OAS. They also had classes in literacy and managing your own business.

On Jan. 24, a ceremony marking the program was held at the Lodge Community Center. OAS representative Starret Greene praised what had been accomplished.

“Women who had no skills in upholstery and who never dreamed of being able to lay tiles, have within the past months acquired such skills and have emerged as sufficiently qualified persons to compete for jobs in these particular areas within the local labor market,” Mr. Greene said. “Today, women who had no hope of doing something meaningful beyond the sweltering heat of the sugar cane fields, now find new zeal and inspiration to realize their dreams.”

The floor have the community center was re-tiled by the women in the course as a demonstration of their skills.

The programs was paid for by the OAS and cost USD$22,000, Mr. Greene said. The expenses were held down by local businesses, including Builder’s Paradise and TDC, that gave discounts on the materials and instructors who taught for a very small stipend, he said.

“Much of the help came from local facilitators who basically gave their labor for free,” Mr. Greene said.

One of those instructors was Don Farrell, proprietor of Farrell’s Canvas & Upholstery Service.

“It took a lot of time out of my business,” he said, “(but) it was something that really touched my heart to see how the young ladies responded. They had some real talent. They were able to utilize their own talents and came up with their own ideas.”

His upbringing had a lot to do with his decision to get involved, Mr. Farrell said.

“You got to always be able to look forward.  I was brought up that way. You’ve got to help look out for people,” he said.

Morning and afternoon training sessions were held at Mr. Farrell’s business. When the training ended, Farrell said he felt good about his contributions.

“At the end of the day, we became one happy family. I think it is something we should do more of,” he said.

The project coordinator was Shirley Adams, executive officer in the Department of Gender Affairs. The women who received the training were pleased with it, she said.

“I think it did make them feel happy,” she said. “These are skills they did not have before.”

The ministry was also pleased with the results, she said.

“I think we met the target we were looking at. I think it will be evident by their dedication to the project,” Ms. Adams said.