Success Stories 22 Jan 2020
In her own words, Anna Jane Schutz opens up about her home country, what it's like being in a male-dominated field and her hopes for the future.
Life in Kiribati
I was born on the main island in Kiribati but spent most of my childhood on the outer island of Abemama. My younger siblings and I moved there with my parents when my dad retired. Life on the outer island is super simple, everyone knows each other. I always appreciated its peaceful and enchanting environment, sometimes I'll daydream about Abemama whenever I get so busy or stressed at uni. Having spent most of my childhood and completing primary school in Abemama, I left to attend secondary school on the main island then headed off to Fiji to complete my schooling there.
In my family there are six of us, four girls and two boys. I am the youngest girl out of the four and have always considered my three older sisters as second moms. I am fortunate that I always had their full support and trust in everything I do.
My mum is a housewife, and I say that with great pride because I still prefer going home to a hot meal and her company. Even though she is not working, she is the rock of our family and she keeps us grounded. I have never known anyone who can endure, work hard and sacrifice like she does, she is my inspiration.
The most patient and kindest person of all would be my dad, it is so great when you have someone who can listen to all your problems, little talks and unnecessary conversations. After his retirement, he spent most of his time running his small business back in the island and took care of us. He always makes time for you, and willingly shares his wisdom. He plays a great role in my life; he is a superhero dad according to me.
My siblings are also worth admiring, my older sisters have excelled in their paths whilst my youngest brothers are doing so well in their high school journey too. I look up to the achievements of my older sisters while also being a role model to my younger brothers.
Study and Inspiration
I am studying at the Auckland University of Technology, currently in my third year of my bachelors towards achieving a Construction Engineering degree.
Considering that I grew up in an outer island, there were so many universal things that I was unaware about especially technology, high rise structures and modern living. Looking back now, I credit my parents for raising me with the idea that my life shouldn't be limited to the island, and that my education would take me further.
My dad worked as a contracting carpenter most of his life and his massive drawing pages and various sized pencils were always scattered when I was younger. I have always been curious about his tools and our little conversations over drawings, pencils and buildings instilled in me the idea of wanting to work as someone like him but he encouraged me to be more and told me to consider being a construction or civil engineer one day. What motivated me was that he always spoke on the fact that being different is not a problem and your gender should not define your capabilities and your dreams. My mom on the other hand, proved to me that women are strong, resilient and capable. She is the type of woman who never doubted her children, and encouraged me to focus and reach further even if it was challenging.
Engineering is undoubtedly one of the hardest careers to undertake at institutions, but I always think that students who come from developing countries like mine are capable of overcoming any kinds of obstacles.
There is this thing that they teach you before going onto a construction site and that is to take five steps back and observe the hazards. I do the same in my personal life, taking a step back to observe the challenges that have tested me but have pushed me to get this far in life.
Through the PCF Internship I am working alongside Auckland Council’s excellent building technical assessors and inspectors. They are helping me broaden my knowledge about the building industry in New Zealand. We also do a lot of building inspections which exposes me to all the various stages of construction on numerous sites. This experience is a privilege, and I am grateful for PCF for investing in me.
Challenges in Kiribati
Climate change is the biggest challenge in Kiribati. It has impacts on accessibility to clean water and the livelihoods of the people. It also affects the sustainability of infrastructures, and the availability of resources in the country so there is a need for better and alternative construction practice to develop and sustain these structures. There is also a significant shortage of engineers which results in a lack of technical perception to assist development projects in the country.
I plan to encourage proper capacity building and continuous training of construction workers so tendered projects can be done to a proper standard. I also intend to support the adaptation of good material selection and the latest construction techniques to achieve the most sustainable, cost effective and reliable infrastructures.
In 10 years’, time, I want to be a senior female engineer equipped with knowledge and training to assist the expansion, innovations and changes of the construction industry in Kiribati or in the region. Most importantly, I would also want to be known as a daughter and a mother who made it in a male-dominated career.