Career & Education

From the bush to the brewery

St Ann woman
challenges gender
norms

Sunday, December 03, 2017

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With a chuckle, Ann Marie McGeachy recalls how, after seeking employment on a construction site, she was told by the foreman that she was too pretty for the job. Back then, an unemployed McGeachy was not amused, having a young daughter to feed and few options in the big city.

“I struggled when I came to Kingston. I needed the work, and although I knew it was going to be tough, I wasn't a stranger to hard work,” said McGeachy, who had travelled, like so many others, from the country to the capital seeking a better life.

Her journey began in the cool climes of Moneague in St Ann where she was born and raised to believe that 'as long as you put your mind to it, no task was too difficult'. So when a lack of finances forced her to drop out of teachers' college, the Dinthill past student started a small farm, raising chickens, goats, pigs, and cows, with hot peppers under cultivation.

“I was always good with my hands, and I loved farming. I really enjoyed being in the bush.

After my daughter was born, circumstances changed and I had to move to Kingston. But there was no agriculture here,” she said, recalling the reality that led to her decision to learn a trade.

“My first attempt at construction was met with serious discrimination. The foreman who was there at first actually told me that I would be a distraction to the men on the site.”

Undeterred by the initial rejection, McGeachy went back and convinced new management that she was capable of doing the job, which required mixing cement, pushing a wheelbarrow full of material, and several other tasks generally left to the men. “That first site job was a church, and to this day I smile when I pass by and remember how I helped to build it,” she told Career & Education, unmistakable pride in her voice.

Besides a lack of faith in her abilities, McGeachy also suffered at the hands of site managers, who claimed she couldn't possibly have done as much work as the men, and used that to justify paying her less than them. Those jobs were followed by a short stint as a painter and landscaper, after which McGeachy jumped at the chance to return to the land she loved.

“An elder told me that Red Stripe was about to start a cassava farm in Bernard Lodge and he took me there. I got the job and became the first female farm worker for Project Grow,” she explained, pointing to the early stages of the company's local raw materials sourcing initiative through which cassava is grown and used as a substitute for imported starch in beer production.

The Red Stripe engagement also meant formal training as part of the Learning For Life skills development programme done in partnership with the HEART Trust/NTA. McGeachy was a standout among her cohort and quickly became an influencer and role model for the other students. It wasn't strange, therefore, that she was named valedictorian of her February 2015 graduating class.

“I will never forget how I felt when I finished my speech and got a standing ovation. I was so proud of myself,” she said with a bright smile.

Two years later, the St Ann native is still making her mark in a male-dominated field.

“I currently have two roles. When I'm at the cassava starch factory at Red Stripe, I'm a machine operator. When I'm at Bernard Lodge, I am the team leader responsible for supervising the workers on the farm,” she noted, adding that she has made several presentations to groups that tour the farm, including a delegation from the Inter-American Development Bank.

While McGeachy remains proud of her accomplishments, she has her sights set on further education and a university degree.

“I know I have done well, but I always feel that there's something more for me to do. So I definitely want to go back to school next year and see where that takes me.”

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