The following stories from Dominican Republic, Ecuador and Fiji are extracts from the booklet 'Women in the Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Industry."
ANA VANESSA RICARDO ACOSTA (DOMINICAN REPUBLIC)
Currently, I work as a specialist in environmental agreements. I have been working five and half years on the Green Customs Initiative, which implements different multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs), including the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer. My functions include the training of customs inspectors, who make up the first line of defense in customs. When imports arrive, they are responsible for the inspection of containers, including shipments related to the Montreal Protocol.
I have a master’s degree in international trade management, a double degree from the National University of Costa Rica in MEA (including the Montreal Protocol) training workshops, and a diploma in environmental law, among other training certificates.
- “Times change and trade is not static; we thus need to be alert in order to fight illegal trade and ensure that we have environmentally fair trade.”
Throughout this time, I have participated in workshops, including ones held on the border with our neighbouring country, Haiti, where we carried out inter-agency training, which is a shared responsibility. Our relationship with the National Ozone Programme (PRONAOZ), the focal point for the Montreal Protocol under the Ministry of the Environment, is successful. We have worked together to detect the import of prohibited gases from China and India.
A recent case which our office was handling, and which attracted attention concerned the detection of an import of refrigerator motor debris from an island in the Caribbean. These motors ran on gases such as R-12. Over the last five years we’ve dealt with cases of imports of refrigerant mixtures with banned gases from China, among other cases.
We are aware that, together with the controls established by the customs agency and the constant work of PRONAOZ, what will guarantee our continued excellent results is constant education of the surveyors, customs agents, and the public in general, who are concerned with imports of refrigerant gases.
Times change and trade is not static; we thus need to be alert in order to fight illegal trade and ensure that we have environmentally fair trade.
ROSITA SILVA MALDONADO (ECUADOR)
The current use of refrigerants is a common practice and necessary for the development of society. We see them everywhere, from simple fridges to big freezer or refrigeration units, which is no doubt a very important leap for society’s development. However, this has also given way to the arrival of substances used as refrigerants that damage the environment: ozone layer depletion and global warming are the results of the improper use of these substances.
These are sufficient reasons to implement training in good practices for the use of these substances through the Good Practices in Refrigeration training programme for technicians in charge of maintenance and repairs of refrigeration equipment. Today, international organizations such as the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) are dedicated to reducing the environmental impacts of these substances through the implementation of programmes focused on the recovery, recycling, and reuse of such substances, the training of technical personnel, and the provision of equipment. In the end, this will enable countries to comply with their commitments under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, to which Ecuador is a party.
In 2005, I was an instructor, teaching electricity and electronics, at the Ecuadorean Professional Training Service (SECAP). I became involved in the weld of refrigeration and air conditioning. SECAP, a Government institution tasked with training and certification in Ecuador, had me receive training in the management of refrigerant recovery and recycling equipment in Quito as part of the implementation of the Montreal Protocol.
After learning about the importance of the project and our responsibility as a country in contributing to the protection of the environment – not only for ourselves but also for future generations – I became interested in getting involved in the weld of refrigeration.
- “Through workshops, we are raising technicians’ awareness and training technicians in refrigeration and air conditioning best practices.”
Through extensive training provided by the Ozone Technical Unit and organizations such as UNIDO and UNEP, and with refrigeration tools and equipment for conducting workshops, capacity-building for technicians in refrigeration and air conditioning began. It continues to this day. Through workshops, we are raising technicians’ awareness and training technicians in refrigeration and air conditioning best practices, since many of them opened their repair and maintenance shops without adequate technical training. This is knowledge that they can also pass on to their descendants, in many cases in developing countries.
On the other hand, in the city of Cuenca, Ecuador, employees of INDUGLOB, a company that makes refrigeration equipment, were trained in good practices in refrigeration and air-conditioning in 2016 with the same goal in mind. Currently, our goal for the end of 2018 and for 2019 is to train, at the national level, approximately n00 domestic and commercial refrigeration technicians in the use and safe handling of hydrocarbon (HC) refrigerants as a replacement for hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). HFCs contribute to global warming. This is related to Ecuador’s ratification of the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, pursuant to Executive Decree No. 209 of 17 November 2017.
MAKELESI MARAMA SAUTURAGA (FIJI)
After completing high School, I was motivated by my father, a mechanic by trade, to take up a course in engineering. Being the second eldest of seven siblings, my father was the sole breadwinner. So, I thought to myself, “Why not pursue a career that will not only help my father, but to which I aspire and in which I can make a difference.”
And so, I prepared to enrol in Mechanical Engineering at the Fiji Institute of Technology without knowing that there was a course on refrigeration and air conditioning (RAC). After much advice from a tutor, I gladly took the RAC course. In 1992, we were required to do internships for a maximum of six months. Initially, I started with Supercool Fiji and then moved on to Pacific Beverages Fiji and, finally, the Warwick Hotel, as a junior RAC technician.
Now, in 1999, because I was so far away from home, I thought of applying for a job in Suva, so I took an application into Rewa Cooperative Dairy in person. After being told there were no positions available, I was noticed by the CEO, who called me in. The next day, I was recruited into their maintenance and engineering team and was primarily involved in RAC, including mechanical tasks. Regarding RAC jobs, I worked with air conditioning units, compressors, condensers, evaporators, farm refrigeration units, upright coolers and chillers. To complement my trade, I was working with fitters and learning about pumps, valves and manufacturing equipment and servicing boilers with boilermen. I remember when I twice had to attend to the breakdown of milk cooling units, which required me to stay alone all night at a dairy farm milking shed. This was essential in order to get the right temperature since milk is a very sensitive product and without the right temperature, the milk can be spoilt. In 2009, management assigned me to run a Danish demo machine that converted liquid milk to condensed milk and then to powdered milk. It was a struggle at first, but with my sheer determination and hard work, it eventually turned out to be a success. In early 2012, I was again assigned to operate and maintain one of the new blow-moulding machines (machines that blow bottles into shape) and a juice filling machine. The machines I worked on required me to climb up and even get under the machines for a changeover or a breakdown. In the process, if I was not careful, I could burn a finger or two, get bruises and end up covered in grease and dirt.
- “Working in a male-dominated profession has enabled me to develop resilience and determination to continue to strive for the better.”
While I was assigned to these new machines, I did not deal much with RAC unless there were no other technicians available. Towards the end of 2012, I was tasked with managing our maintenance stores and, to be frank, I found it difficult, because I had to deal with administrative work, which I was less used to. However, with the helping hand of the Chief Engineer, I managed to cope. With an open mind, I continued to learn a lot of new things in the different areas of the machine and car parts and civil engineering materials. I also dealt with change such as meeting new sales personnel with their items to sell. Nevertheless, I always have to be prepared to deliver when there no other technicians are available to deal with RAC breakdowns. Having worked in the industry for a long time, I had always prayed that one day, I would work somewhere where my unique expertise would be recognized. In the latter years of my career, I was interviewed by Fiji’s Department of Environment and roped in to serve as one of the assistant ozone depleting substance (ODS) inspectors. The roles expected of me included carrying out inspections (RAC and methyl bromide) to assist the industry with complying with the ODS legislation, monitoring and maintaining records and documentation for permits and licenses, conducting inspections of fishing vessels with the Fiji Customs Service and assisting with the promotion of Good Practices in Refrigeration through the Australian Fumigation Accreditation Scheme (AFAS) Workshop and hydrocarbon training.
If anything, I am more than grateful to God for my experiences, because they have brought out the best in me. Working in a male-dominated profession has enabled me to develop resilience and determination to continue to strive for the better. I am continuously challenged not only to treat men and women alike, but to accept the fact that this culture of “male-only” professions is in dire need of a huge paradigm shift, especially in Fiji. As a woman, I continue to respect my male colleagues and it is true that respect is earned and not commanded. Respect is what I have gained at every workplace I have been in. Women should not only be seen as feminine, but as equally strong as their male counterparts – not only physically, but emotionally and psychologically as well. I have also come to a stage where I realize that the only way to change the norm is to have more women join professions such as RAC and continue to be challenged through the mindset that if men can do it, why can’t women? In fact, I would vouch for the saying that “If men can do it, women can do it even better!”
AKANISI TEVULU VARANI (FIJI)
I obtained a Trade Certificate in Refrigeration and Air Conditioning (RAC) at the Fiji Institute of Technology, now Fiji National University. I was an apprentice for four years before earning a diploma in Plant and Mechanical Engineering. I am currently trying to complete my Bachelor’s degree (Hons) in mechanical engineering. In addition, I participated in some training conducted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The training was eye-opening, showing us a new direction now that we have new alternative refrigerants. It opened up new doors for me – I was invited to be part of a workshop in China. It has motivated me to go in this new direction and become a new version of myself, adapting to change – I am thankful to UNEP for that.
The RAC section at Fiji National University was the first place where I started working after doing a few weeks’ interning in one of the local companies. I became a technician, then worked my way up to a tutorial assistant and now an Assistant Instructor. I teach Certificate IV in Refrigeration and Air Conditioning at Fiji National University.
My father was a mechanic, trained by a marine engineer. He did not have any qualifications, but he was good at his work. Being an only child, I dreamed that one day, I would own a garage with my father and that we would work together as business partners. My parents got separated when I was very young. Though I hardly knew either of them, I began to develop a close bond with my father, getting to know him over the years. That bond was broken when I was informed that my father had passed away in hospital. My heart was broken. I was left alone with many sleepless nights, feeling hopeless and thinking of what my future would be without my father. High school friends of mine told me that they had gone to a nearby village on a speed boat and the engine had failed. They had had to float on the sea for several hours until my father came to their rescue, fixed the engine and they continued on their journey. I began to pick up the pieces of my life and move on. That story has motivated me to work hard and give back to the village.
When I finished high school, I enrolled at the Fiji Institute of Technology to earn a Trade certificate in Refrigeration and Air Conditioning. It’s a male-dominated weld and there were certainly challenges. Gender will always be an issue in some countries. Changing my behaviour is not necessary: I just have to be myself. When I hear offensive jokes, I stand my ground and straightforwardly tell the perpetrators that I will not tolerate that behaviour. One of the biggest challenges is getting the skills required and today, I thank my colleagues who have shared their skills and helped to get me where I am today. Another issue is the lack of female mentors, but we have skillful, able men who have helped me get this far. There are many challenges, but I did not quit. My main focus is on getting the job done. In time, I will earn their respect. I had a passion for this engineering job and a dream to take up my father’s legacy. There is a saying that goes: “Success without a successor is a failure». So many people in my village have admired my father’s work, but if I didn’t take up the baton and complete it, he would be a total failure. My father has given his life to helping people in the village and the money he earned has helped me with my education. There are challenges along the way, but my passion for the job keeps me going. We only get one world to live in, so we get the skill and knowledge that we need to give back and develop our society and our country. That is our human responsibility.
- “The RAC sector is crucial for our health, nutrition and comfort. I am so glad to be part of an important industry that plays an important role in achieving food security and improved nutrition, ensuring healthy lives and promoting wellbeing.”
I took scientific subjects in high school, which is why I was accepted for the engineering course. Being a woman is a considerable advantage since there are only a few of us in a particular field, so we are generally offered scholarships and training.
The RAC sector is crucial for our health, nutrition and comfort. I am so glad to be part of an important industry that plays an important role in achieving food security and improved nutrition, ensuring healthy lives and promoting well being. Now, we are in a transitional period, finalizing the phase out of HCFCs and preparing for the upcoming phase down of HFCs under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. I have become a new version of myself: out with the old and in with the new. The introduction of the new alternative refrigerant has ushered in new technology. The training course on hydrocarbons has alerted me that I have a responsibility in saving our environment. We are combatting climate change – whether female or male, we have a vital role in saving our environment. The younger generation does not care so much whether you are a woman or a man, nor what race you are. It is more fun when there are people of different genders working together and there is more team bonding. Gender diversity contributes to the positive deployment of skills and also economic growth, as research has shown.