In 2019 the Women’s Resource Centre (WRC) and HSBC Bank Bermuda Ltd. partnered to launch a pioneering programme focused on education, life skills and employability for disadvantaged women. Five months into the first programme, we speak to two participants who say it has already improved their self-esteem, helped them focus on what they want to achieve and provided invaluable support.

“This was something I really needed,” says Rita Jones. “I have a bit of education and some skills, but I can’t seem to find something that sticks. I’ve been trying to get a mentor. Just trying to find someone to teach me and show me the way to get ahead because I didn’t have those role models in my life.”

Growing up, most people in Jones’ family were caregivers and housekeepers, but she wanted to break that mould and work in the corporate world. For a while, she worked for a local bank, but she says “life hits you and you decide the job isn’t for you. I’ve been through a lot which holds me back with different positions. I realised things about myself that hindered my performance.”

Jones is now learning how to take on the things that scared her and she said “so far, it’s building up my self-esteem because I have a smile on the outside so I’m working on the inside right now. A lot of women feel ashamed to ask for help especially because Bermuda is small. I’ve learned a lot about sisterhood!”

“Through the programme and the courses offered they’re dealing with all the elements,” continues Ingrid Welch, a programme participant. “The way you look, the way you approach situations, interviews, communications, your skills. We all have strengths and weaknesses.

“It’s been awesome. Feeling the connection and the support, feeling like there is some sort of purpose to our lives moving forward, we’re not just our story. We are working to empower ourselves but also encourage other women through the programme.”

Welch has struggled in the past with mental illness and addiction, but now she says she is “looking forward to having a new start at a new life.”

HSBC has fully funded the programme for three years and the bank’s staff are also involved in the tutoring, mentoring, technical and vocational education aspects of it. 10 women are taking part in the first programme, but there will be 20 each in the second and third.

“The programme has been extremely successful,” says Elaine Butterfield, Executive Director of the Women’s Resource Centre. “We started out with assessments to find out what each participant’s skills were so it could be tailored to their individual needs. Where are they in life? Is someone homeless? We want to understand their journey and how they got there.”

In order to do that, Butterfield explains that they did psycho social tests and assessments for career skills, literacy, numeracy and placement.

“The results were astounding,” she continues. “It was amazing just how talented and skilled these women are. They all had the ability to succeed in life by addressing what their basic needs are.”

During the assessments, the WRC mapped out specific plans for each one of the participants. For example, some are receiving specific financial direction. Others need their General Education Diploma (GED), which is their high school leaving certificate. One is looking to be enrolled in Bermuda College for a care giving certification and another is an entrepreneur and needed coaching.

Other workshops include employment interviewing skills, which involves roll play, personal and professional communication skills, CPR and SCARS training courses, and advice on how to dress successfully.

“There are also women who have the need for counselling about how to address emotional issues in their lives,” continues Butterfield. “We will always be there as a buffer and support so that they can stay employed, in relationships, taking care of the children and most of all, themselves.”

Every one of the participants is a single mother but if they need to attend a workshop and can’t find childcare, the WRC will help out: “We watch the kids. It’s been like a new family,” she says. “We all understand each other’s stories.”

The first programme finishes in June 2020, at which point there will be a graduation ceremony. “We’ve sat down with each lady individually and set a goal we hope to achieve before they graduate,” says Butterfield.

“I will graduate with a renewed sense of self and confidence,” says Welch. “And hopefully some new and better employment. I would love to be in the philanthropy area. I am creative, have compassion, empathy and know how to deal with people. I feel like if I don’t put up a fight for others then nothing is going to change and that will be a sad story for Bermuda.”

“My goal is to get back into the corporate world,” says Jones. “I want a full-time job so I can eliminate my debt and buy a home for my six-year-old daughter and myself.”

“When we first partnered with the Women’s Resource Centre to support this programme, we were impressed with its potential to provide much-needed employability and future skills training as well as personal, educational, health and wellbeing support,” says Yolanda Outerbridge, HSBC Head of HR and executive sponsor overseeing the programme.

“HSBC applauds the hard work, determination and achievements the participants have made to date. Our knowledgeable HSBC staff facilitated debt management workshops in 2019 and we also now look forward to the mentoring and work experience phase of the programme. It is our hope that these deserving women will all graduate in June with a renewed sense of pride in themselves and confidence as they work toward financial independence and self-sufficiency. HSBC is so pleased to be a partner in this very worthwhile and very much needed initiative.