"One day I asked myself what outlook I would approach life with. I said to myself: it will be with love, humour and joy."
They say a smile is contagious, and Carmen Uyperhoeven proves this on a daily basis. From the Reach Stacker, a crane used to move cages and containers, she radiates happiness and positivity. She chooses that way of thinking. “I lost my parents at a very young age, I brought up my son alone; I went through some very difficult times. One day I asked myself what outlook I was going to approach life with. I said: it will be with love, humour and joy”, she says.
With that optimistic spirit and an open mind, instilled by a Belgian dad who was able to see the potential in female empowerment, she applied for a position working at the port. “I had been working as a cab driver for twelve years", says Carmencita, "But I used to take my C.V. everywhere as I wanted to quit, because of job insecurity and to broaden my horizons. At the public Job Centre someone mentioned that Montecon was looking for a woman with a category D driving licence to drive lorries that transport containers (‘toritos’, or little bulls)”.
After junking her own prejudices, she decided to accept the role, and the men of the ‘torito’ sector now had a woman amongst them. Nevertheless, a while later she found true love with her machine, the Reach Stacker. “From the first moment I felt drawn to it. Even though you’re “picking up” cages and cranes all the time, it feels special. I realised this was what I wanted so I applied for the first position I could, to get into the sector”, she says from her seat in the Reach Stacker.
Far from seeking to force her way into a nucleus that was traditionally male dominated, Carmencita (as she is known by everyone) always managed to share the workplace harmoniously. “Women don’t come to take over from men, we come to share roles and do jobs that we get the same training for. During the courses we take, to learn to drive the machines, they teach us the same things and nothing stops us manoeuvring them. We come to share a space”, she says.
"We get places by being ourselves, without losing our female identity."
It's not about becoming more masculine so as to be able to work with men, but is actually the opposite: “If we did so, we would be losing the essential thing that so many women fight for. We get places by being ourselves, without losing our female identity. We get there while being wives, mothers and grandmothers. We shouldn’t lose our finesse, our way of speaking, or the fragrance we bring to life”.
Her father was a doctor, but when he retired he started buying and selling old cars. He taught her how to drive when she was only a young girl. He put her in an Austin A40 and not only did he teach her some basic driving instructions, but he also passed on his passion for cars. “Look, women in Europe are starting to get places they never had before - one day, they will here too”, her father predicted. That was why he insisted on putting her behind the steering wheel.
So, it may be fate or coincidence, but what is true is that Carmencita has been working on wheels since she was 18 years old. She likes moving about: being in the Stacker, grabbing a container from the terminal and unloading it onto a torito. “I like breathing fresh air, feeling the rain, being close to the river and the postcard views the port gives us. I couldn’t imagine a place where I couldn’t move.” But never say never: if in the future she came across a new challenge in the company, she would at least give it a thought.
"I try to push young girls to be brave because they are able to achieve whatever they put their minds to, you just have to want it and work for it."
One, two, three, and so on, until the number of women at the port is limitless. That’s what she wants, that's what drives her. Why aren’t there more? “Because women don’t know their potential, they really don’t know their ability, nor do they imagine how far they could go. As women, we limit ourselves. Very often it isn’t society, or men, or families. It’s us, and that’s what is hardest. I try to push young girls to be brave because they are able to achieve whatever they put their minds to, you just have to want it and work for it”. You have to open your mind, she urges: “men have to open theirs, but so do we”.
Montecon is the main public-area operator in the Port of Montevideo, not only for containers but also for general freight and freight projects. Its clients enjoy a seamless service that is world class.