Maria Landa knows her way around a blowtorch. The Peruvian is one of her country's few female welders and just the person to call when you need to install a jet engine.
On the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day, TakePart salutes Maria for her hard work and groundbreaking achievements.
Being a woman welder has not been easy for Maria. She was scoffed at, denied loans and told that starting one, let alone three, welding companies in Peru was just female craziness.
Instead of retreating, Maria fought to learn her craft and build her businesses, seeking the support of CARE, the worldwide poverty-fighting, humanitarian aid organization.
Aside from being a woman, Maria tells TakePart that the most difficult obstacle in starting her first business was overcoming the economic recession.
She says, "I struggled a lot to survive...but this did not discourage me because I clearly knew what I wanted. I wanted to be a businesswoman. I wanted to grow and develop as a person without limits. I wanted to be free."
Maria also never forgot the message of her high-school philosophy teacher, Esther Jara Quispe: "Women could do everything from mechanics to poetry."
Esther Jara Quispe often told Maria that before being male or female, people should be recognized as human beings.
"She's a great inspiration to me," says Maria. "Her actions and ideas have been with me all these years."
Maria's skills have come in handy for people needing everything from windows and doors to emergency shelters.
In 2007, a massive 8.0-magnitude earthquake rocked Peru, and CARE reached out to Maria for help.
She and her team worked around the clock to build 1,000 temporary homes for residents displaced by the disaster. She also welded 100 tent frames for classrooms so the children could resume their studies.
Helping the victims meant a lot to Maria, and the care she took constructing the homes did not go unnoticed. "The victims who received tents expressed deep gratitude for the prompt support and solidarity at a time of tragedy," she says.
Maria currently has seven female welders on her team, and hopes to empower many more women in Peru. To any young girls wondering what path to take in their lives, she says: "Fight for your dreams... Make your own growth, and help leave a better life for other women."
Maria is one of CARE's mythbusters—female heroes who are busting old myths—lies like "Women can't be trusted with money" and "A woman's place is in the home."