7 June 2012

Uganda: The Female Mechanics Who Broke the Barriers in Tororo District


When Evelyn Abonyo, 23, bent over the open bonnet of a pick-up truck that had broken down, onlookers doubted her ability to fix the problem.

In 30 minutes, the truck had fired up after a single ignition, leaving onlookers amazed. The vehicle had broken down in the middle of a road in Tororo municipality. The driver had failed to rectify the problem and sent a young boy to get a mechanic to work on it.

Although the driver needed help, he showed he was disappointed when it was a female mechanic who came to his rescue. When Abonyo inquired how the vehicle broke down, the driver told her that the engine suddenly stopped working. She skillfully removed, cleaned the carburettor, then reassembled it and the truck was back on track.

Her journey to becoming a mechanic

Abonyo and Elizabeth Saniam, another female mechanic, who hail from Kwapa sub-county in Tororo district dropped out of school after Senior four because their parents could not afford school fees. Fortunately in July last year, both girls, were among the 220 youth selected for training under the Youth Empowerment Project.

The project, which is co-funded by European Union, Plan International, Bukedi diocese was rolled out in Tororo and Lira districts to empower marginalised youth to become self-employed. Abonyo and Saniam enrolled at St. Benedict Technical Training Institute in Tororo.

Their male course-mates scorned and called them comedians, who were being trained to become toolbox handlers. However, it did not take long for the two girls to prove their detractors wrong. Robert Ochwo, their instructor at the institute calls them brilliant. "They did not only prove that they are adept, but were among the few students in the class that could, dismantle and assemble a motor vehicle engine perfectly," he recalls.

Christopher Ojangole, the institutes principal says Abonyo and Saniam were the first women to be enrolled for the motor vehicle mechanic course at the institute.

Today, Abonyo and Saniam are professional motor vehicle mechanics. They graduated early last month. Watching Abonyo at work is fascinating. The manual work that comes with the trade is taking a heavy toll on her towering figure, lending her a hard, solid and masculine build, but that has not side-tracked her.

"Experience has taught me to love manly (male) jobs for they fetch a lot of money," Abonyo says.

For Saniam, passion for manly jobs began back when she was a little girl. "You command respect when you do manly jobs," says Saniam, whose ambition was to become an engineer.

Looking back at how far they come, Abonyo notes that being a motor vehicle mechanic calls for curiosity, concentration and attention. For Saniam, the trade doesn't entertain laziness, for everything is done manually.

"You are expected to carry heavy engine parts as well as being swift when screwing, and unscrewing nuts," she observes. Abonyo works at Total Petrol Station, while Saniam works in a motor garage, in Tororo municipality.

While advocates of women emancipation have often over stepped social value landmark, Abonyo and Saniam have undoubtedly taken the right direction.

Youth Empowerment Programme

Exopheri Ochwo, the Youth Empowerment Programme coordinator says the project was established after a recent research indicated that 80% of the youth in Uganda were unemployed.

Further evaluation showed that 60% of this vulnerable population dropped out in primary school mainly due to lack of guidance from parents and guardians.

However, 20% of the 40% that join secondary schools dropped out of school.

Ochwo explains that it was against this background that European Union and Plan International committed the funds to support the youth. "While the research indicated that the youth that constitute 60% of the country's population, belonged to the age group, the majority were redundant because they lacked the skills to be economically productive," Ochwo says.

Gerison Illukot, the project officer, says a total of 440 youth in Tororo and Lira districts are enrolled annually in designated institutions to acquire skills ranging from vehicle mechanic, artisan, carpentry, tailoring and hair dressing. "Upon graduation, the project provides the grandaunts with the necessary kit of equipment/tools to begin a new life," says Illukot.

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