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Thursday 16 August 2018
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Mildred Boneo

PHOTOS BY JEFF MAYERS

As a teenager attending St Augustine Girls’ High School, she shared her father’s love for stories and for the buildings in the capital city, which led to her dream of becoming an architect.

Boneo won a national scholarship after her secondary education and although architecture was her passion, for practical reasons she decided to attend the University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine campus where she studied civil engineering.

“It was very expensive to live abroad, even with a scholarship. I didn’t want to put that much financial pressure on my parents so I started looking at civil engineering at UWI,” Boneo recalled in an interview with WMN.

It was a decision Boneo was glad she made because even though her dream of being an architect was put on hold, civil engineering led her to the fulfilment of a different dream: to contribute to the restoration of this country’s heritage sites.

The 24-year-old civil engineer was the representative from the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) to monitor and oversee the final phase of the restoration of Stollmeyer’s castle, which was handed over to the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and the Arts in early April.

Boneo is also working on Whitehall, which was the former office of the prime minister and President’s House.

“I’ve always had a fascination with restoration projects but I didn’t realise it. Whenever I walked into an older building, I would imagine how it was when it was built and how I could improve it,” she said.

She often shares a story about an essay she wrote for a communication studies class while at university.

“I remember specifically my teacher said, just write something you are passionate about and I remember writing down photography, the historical buildings and something else, I can’t remember the third thing, so I guess it wasn’t important.

“I eventually chose historical buildings because of the stories my father would tell us when I was younger and we would come to the city. I remember he would say great things about the castle and the Magnificent Seven and it didn’t seem very elaborate, but I would try to imagine how it looked then and I knew it had a lot of potential but at the time it looked kind of dilapidated.”

Because of this, she decided to write about the magnificent seven and to narrate the story in a way that the buildings would speak for themselves. She imagined personalities for each building and gave the story dialogue and amid the lines of fiction, she made a promise that one day she would help restore them to their former beauty.

“At the time, I liked architecture because I like being creative. I like the arts and I felt it was a practical application of art. Civil engineering is more technical. Architecture is concerned with how the building looks and the placement of spaces and the civil engineering is more responsible for ensuring that the structure stands and I like that as well. I appreciate architecture but I think civil engineering is where I belong.

At 24 Boneo has accomplished a lot of her goals, but her own self-doubt means she is sometimes dissatisfied with her progress.

Her final year in university was spent in Germany and she graduated with first class honours in her programme. When she returned to Trinidad, she expected to be employed immediately and start her career journey.

“I came back to the country and as a returning scholar I was part of the Associate Professional programme. I was unemployed for a while, for about five months and it was in 2015 and the government had just changed so there was a delay in finding a job.”

There weren’t many places and I was being really hard on myself, until one day I got the call that the Office of the Prime Minister was hiring and I was very confused because why would the Office of the Prime Minister need an engineer?”

Boneo went to an interview with Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s advisor Stephen Gardiner, and received a job offer.

“I had an offer as well from Caribbean Airlines, and then when I met Mr Gardiner and he started to speak about the buildings and his approach to everything, I decided to take the job. He was very open to new ideas and I felt like I wanted to work in that environment.”

She described her first week on the job as a serious adjustment.

“My first week I had to go through a bunch of procurement policies. When I was in UWI, I never thought I would be doing management type things. I like to calculate and do structural analysis, but this is also a part of the project and it is important and allowing me to develop vital skills. My role was to monitor the project and ensure it was within budget and within scope. I worked with my supervisor to come up with solutions.”

Boneo is the youngest of the all-female team of civil engineers at the OPM.

While working on the projects, she feels a sense of satisfaction in being a part of the process.

“When I wrote the (essay) I read about Rudylynn Roberts and Bernard McKay and they seemed knowledgeable, and when I got to sit in the same room with them I felt very humbled.”

She said the first time she visited the heritage sites as a civil engineer she wanted to say, “I’m back and I’m here and I came back as promised.”

“I feel like I didn’t actively pursue this goal, I didn’t think it would be possible. When I wrote the story in 2012, these projects had already started. Today I feel very humbled to have been able to fulfil my promise and be part of the process. Mr Gardiner talks about national duty and I feel like I am attempting to fulfil my national duty.”

 

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