#WednesdayCelebrateWomen features Maria Marealle: Architect, lecturer and researcher

#WednesdayCelebrateWomen: UNIC Windhoek celebrates Maria Marealle, Architect, Lecturer and Researcher. As part of the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) Windhoek’s on-going #WednesdayCelebrateWomen campaign, UNIC Windhoek celebrates women making a positive impact in Namibia. As a way to get to know our features better, UNIC highlights one inspiring women per month.For this month’s #WCW #WednesdayCelebrateWomen, UNIC Windhoek celebrates Maria Marealle, a talented Architect as well as a devoted lecturer and researcher at the Namibia University of Science and Technology – NUST.

A housing and urban development specialist, Maria works on development related interventions with the aim of reducing poverty and promoting equitable economic development which takes into account the needs of different sectors.

Maria holds a Master’s of Science Degree in Urban Housing Management which she obtained from Lund University, Sweden as well as a Post Graduate and an Advance Diploma in Architecture from Ardhi University in Tanzania. She started her career by working as a practicing Architect for 12 years, she then joined UNHABITAT as a housing and urban development specialist for a development project in Tanzania.

In 2009, Maria joined the Luxemburg Agency for Development Cooperation on a project NAM/343, as a Town Management expert, working on an Urban Development Project for Katima Mulilo.  Maria there after joined the Department of Architecture and Spatial Planning at NUST as a lecturer and a researcher focusing on housing and urban development issues and challenges since January 2012.

Read the interview below to learn more about Maria Marealle, a lady doing her part to contribute to growth and development in Namibia. 

 UNIC: What is one of your career achievements that you are most proud of?

MM: While I was with the Luxemburg Agency for Development Cooperation project, I was able to contribute towards the improvement of living conditions and the dignity of people in Katima Mulilo and Rundu, by facilitating regularization and formalization of 11 townships which provided security of tenure to 19,000 households as well as access to safe and clean water and adequate sanitation to 3600 households in the region.

UNIC: What are your thoughts on women’s empowerment and gender equality?  

 MM: “The needs of men and women in cities are very different and they live and use cities in different ways. These are urban dynamics which most of urban development practitioners involved in development tend not to understand and hence gender inequality in urban development.  In doing so, women will be empowered and facilitate economic growth due to the fact that women are catalysts of positive changes in cities, communities and households” she says.

Maria further advocates that these can be addressed through:

  1. Advocacy strategies at the national levels to create awareness on the subject matter
  2. Capacity development initiatives focus all citizens and specifically development planners
  3. An inclusive approach to development
  4. Policies and regulations which are responding to delivering services and goods for men, women, girls and boys of all backgrounds according to their needs

UNIC: In terms of women’s empowerment, what would you like to see happen in the next generation?

MM: “I would like to see more women in rare professions who are knowledgeable, experienced and exposed. This is critical in providing workable solutions rather than theoretical myths as early as possible in their careers and it will bring about a competitive advantage and empower women in all aspects of the development agenda.”

UNIC: What makes a building ‘green’?

 MM: Making a green building is a process which takes an architect from the initial stages of translating the client’s needs and analysing the site and advising the client during the design on several issues such as orientation, sustainable building materials and technology to be used in the building while taking into consideration and resolving all aspects that can negatively impact the building as well as resolving the impact of a building to the natural environment.  For example, when designing and constructing a green building, we also have to consider things like whether the building materials were created sustainably, and how energy efficiency can be promoted.

UNIC: What are small things that people can do in their homes to make their space green?

 MM:

  • Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
  • Make use of Energy Efficient Equipment at home: You can always check  labels on a piece of equipment states that particular product has been deemed as energy efficient by the Environmental Protection Agency
  • Eco-Friendly Lighting is  recommended: they cost more at  upfront, but use less energy and last longer and offer significant cost savings in the long run
  • Avoid building home in environmentally sensitive locations such as flood prone areas.
  • Use Sustainable Building materials
  • Install Solar Panels

UNIC: How does ‘green’ architecture promote a sustainable environment?

 MM: Architecture can minimize energy consumption and maximise energy efficiency. This can be achieved through the sustainable design of buildings, including their location, grouping, orientation and layout, making use of passive solar heating and natural daylight and ventilation. This can also be achieved by using sustainable building materials and construction techniques.” Maria further advices that “architects when designing should ensure that integrated passive design features are built into the design of new buildings from the earliest stages of the design process to maximise the possibilities for reducing environmental impact and running costs or maintenance costs of the building over its lifetime” she says.

UNIC: In terms of women in architecture, where do you see Namibia in the next 5 years?

 MM: The rate of admission of female students into architectural programmes for the past four years has been increasing. We see these young women successfully graduating and become qualified and confident prospective practicing architects. In the next five years I see women driving the Architectural industry in Namibia

UNIC: Why is it important to empower women and girls to pursue careers in the Architectural field, especially in a society where traditional cultural roles dictate the value and rights of women?

 MM: It is indeed important to empower women and girls to pursue careers in the Architectural field.  In the beginning of my career far back in the late 80’s it was believed that Architecture was for men and I still remember when I was told by one of my classmates on my first day at the university that I am in a wrong class. That statement depicted that I did not have the right to be in that class as the only female student. However, I had a drive, courage and desire to become an architect and I proved them wrong by becoming one.

It is very important to change this perception as this affects young girls emotionally, psychologically and mentally. As a results fear is created, fear of becoming an architect as a woman. We therefore need to encourage and showcase to our young girls the potentials they have in them and what they can achieve.

We are currently developing an outreach programme at the Department of Architecture and spatial planning which targets schools where young girls and the society as a whole can be reached and educated about our on-going architectural programs.

UNIC: The United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, which include 17 Goals that aim to transform the world by 2030. Which of the SDGs resonates with you the most and why and share with us how you plan to work towards achieving this goal?

 MM: There are about seven sustainable development goals that are directly related to my day to day work.

  1. SDG Goal 1: Eliminate poverty in all its forms everywhere
  2. SDG Goal 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture
  3. SDG Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
  4. SDG Goal 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
  5. SDG Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
  6. SDG Goal 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries
  7. SDG Goal 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

I am currently involved in different initiatives which are contributing to achieving the above mentioned Sustainable development Goals. This is through:

  • Promoting sustainable and energy efficient buildings in all my lectures and projects I am involved
  • Working on the issues and challenges in Land governance, especially in advocating for access to land for disadvantaged groups including women
  • Urban/cities/towns development and management by working on developing strategies for preventing the formation of informal settlements
  • Improving living conditions of informal settlers (informal settlement upgrading) by promoting adequate basic services provisions for equitable economic growth in urban areas/cities/towns.

After a long day at work, what do you do to unwind?

MM: Apparently, I learned swimming at a very old age and I love it and it has become my hobby. I attend swimming sessions at least three times a week and it really helps me to unwind. Cooking is my other passion; I always try new recipes whenever I need to calm down.

 What motivates you, and who is your role model?

MM: My late mother was and she is still my role model. I learned so very much from her. She was so gentle and so kind. She taught me how to be my very best in all that I do, and how to love and respect people unconditionally. She was more than a career woman, a wife, a mother, a community and church leader, a best friend and a great listener.

 What is your advice to girls following their dreams?

MM: As human beings, we always have hundreds of conflicting impulses, pushing us in different directions. Try very hard to be focused and when you are able to focus on a single goal, set your mind into doing something about it and do it. Keep on trying and do not be afraid of failing, but do not become a failure. I would like to quote Jay Samit … There is a huge difference between failing and failure. Failing is trying something that you learn doesn’t work. Failure is throwing in the towel and giving up. True success comes from failing repeatedly and as quickly as possible, before your cash or your willpower runs out”.