Kenya: When Girls Come Together, Big Things Happen

18 January 2021

The mechanical engineering field is one that has some of the highest gender gaps globally, with men dominating the sector. But a group of girls has set out to transform this by mentoring girls in Sciences.

At 28, Lynda Kanguhe, is one of the few women mechanical engineers in Kenya, having a specialty in plumping and automotive works.

From her interactions with her guardian, a mechanical engineer, Ms Kanguhe got inspired to pursue mechanical engineering as a career.

"In the evenings around 2003 and 2004, my guardian and I would brainstorm on some of the mechanical issues that he faced at work and how he got to troubleshoot them. That is how I got interested to learn more about his job," recollects Ms Kanguhe.

The more she learnt about mechanical engineering, the more she fell in love with it. But it is after she had joined Starehe Girls' Centre in 2007 that she got to interact with a lady who was a mechanical engineer at Kengen and regularly visited the girls to encourage and mentor them. She soon discovered that there exists gender gaps in the field, something that prompted her to work towards pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering.

"I thought, why not give it a shot?" Ms Kanguhe states.

Male-dominated

She has been in the mechanical engineering field for the last five years. As a site-engineer Ms Kanguhe is tasked with ensuring that architectural drawings are updated alongside the work progress, and the balancing of stocks to ensure that there are no discrepancies in materials used and work progress.

Since August 2020, she immersed herself in construction, a field with a relatively low number of women.

"In construction, the gender gap for technical expertise is so loud. I mainly interact with men on-site. The only woman that I have met so far was doing stock-taking and inventory management," she says.

Previously a site engineer, Ms Kanguhe is slowly evolving in the field and has for the last four months been running Suluhu Green Solutions, a consultancy in water plumbing works. Her new passion is automotive engineering.

"I am now taking an internship on automotive engineering to build on skills learnt in school and see how to incorporate it as a new line in my business," she says. Her dream is to see Suluhu Green Solutions curve a niche as an end-to-end solutions provider in plumping works and automotive engineering.

Ms Kanguhe is a testimony to the power that girls and women can yield when they come together to not only form friendships that support each other to socially navigate the different stages in womanhood, but friendships that come in to add value to the actualisation of each other's future dreams. She is part of a lean-in circle of four girls who have been walking together since 2011.

"Two of them are from the Global-Give Back Circle programme and the other one is a former schoolmate at Starehe Girls' Centre," she says.

Girl empowerment

The Global Give Back Circle (GGBC) programme is a girl-child empowerment programme running in five countries including Kenya, India, China and South Africa and is implemented in Kenya by the Kenya Community Development Foundation (KCDF).

While in Form One in 2007 the Starehe Girls' Centre administration selected Ms Kanguhe among other girls to join the GGBC programme.

"They felt that I stood a chance to benefit from GGBC and my background contributed a lot," she says.

It is here that she met her two friends in the GGBC 'sister circle', and their friendship was mainly to remind each other of their career goals and to keep each other academically accountable.

Luckily, they all passed in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE), with Ms Kanguhe scoring an A mean-grade of 81 points which saw her join Moi University for a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering and Production. Her two friends from the GGBC programme had also been admitted for engineering courses at Moi University, so they again re-united in 2011. While here, she met one of her former classmates at Starehe Girls' Centre who had also been admitted for an engineering course.

"Being in engineering, the four of us now focused on building each other academically. Luckily we all performed very well as we scored not below Second Upper Class," she says.

Having come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and the three of them being beneficiaries of GGBC scholarships, the girls continued to support each other.

"We knew that having had access to university education, our lives would change," says Ms Kanguhe.

Career accomplishments

The friendship has seen the trio transit from mentees to mentors within and outside the GGBC programme.

"We are mentoring other girls in the 'Wings to Fly' scholarship programme, an initiative of Equity Bank Group," says Ms Kanguhe.

After a stint working in engineering, Ms Kanguhe is now pursuing a Masters degree in Nuclear Science at the University of Nairobi. She is working to be financially independent by her 35th birthday.

"I have always wanted to retire at the age of 35 years, and it is the reason that I plugged into my own practice on water and energy. This is an area where I am growing in," she shares.

The young engineer attributes her career accomplishments to her guardian and her sister-circle from the GGBC programme. At a tender age of eight years, she lost her father, and three years later, her mother died.

This saw Ms Kanguhe, the fourth-born in a family of six children, grow up under the guardian of her father's friend who was a mechanical engineer at Mumias Sugar Company Limited in Kakamega. She attended Mumias Complex Primary School, and it is while here that her teachers assisted her to apply to join the Starehe Girls' Centre. All of her five siblings hold various university degrees.

"We have been lucky that scholarships and support avenues such as GGBC exist, and that people are willing to give their time and in kind," says Ms Kanguhe.

GGBC exposed Ms Kanguhe to annual give-back commitments, where she was expected to do something unique to give back to her community. While on holiday, she volunteered at a dispensary in Magongo, Mombasa County. While at Moi University, she volunteered her time to mentor other young girls at a children's home in Kesses, Eldoret and at Moi Girls' in Eldoret. Her interest was to follow on the progress of students, while paying attention to issues raised by girls who were interested in engineering professions in future.

She advises girls to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects as this would give science-based professions a balance.

"More females should join the engineering field. Engineering is not about lifting heavy loads, we have machines which can do the manual work. We need a balance in ideas that can yield quality output," she emphasises.

Transforming societies

While in Form Three and Form Four, Ms Kanguhe also benefited from career guidance and was placed with a mentor, Michelle Graham, a US national who has held her hand to date. Michelle was keen to share mechanical engineering materials with Ms Kanguhe.

"Over the years, Michelle has been a big sister to me. I share with her on issues that I would want to talk about and she gives me her input. For instance, when I shared with her about transitioning in my career, she pointed out other opportunities that I hadn't noticed," explains Ms Kanguhe.

Ms Kanguhe is one of the 934 girls who have so far transited through the GGBC programme, all of whom have prospered in their education and career goals, advancing in socio-economic development. Founded by Linda Lockhart in 2006, GGBC spends Sh980,000 to see each of the girls through tertiary education, skills mentorship and empowerment training workshops, an average cost of Sh245,000 per year. The programme has yielded successes for girls from disadvantaged backgrounds across Kenya, a majority of who are now mentoring and empowering other girls, just like Ms Kanguhe. That is the power that women hold. The power to transform societies, one girl, one family at a time.

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