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Spotlight on my journey as an engineer

I am a Shona, girl by birth and an Engineer by choice. My passion is in Civil, Water, and Sanitation Engineering.

At the age of 3 years I could write the letter S and A. My mother does not know who taught me, but one day she found me writing away. At the age of six years, I was enrolled in primary school. My parents encouraged me to work hard. I would bring home merit badges at the end of every other week, which made my parents proud. On the day of the grade 7 exams, my father said to me as I left for school, “Go and get your two units”. Two units meant getting an A, one for Math and one for English. One unit was the highest grading one could get. As I sat to write the exams, I told myself, failure was not an option. I could not let my parents down. And I didn’t.

After writing my O’ Level exams I got tired of sitting at home all day. I wanted to keep busy and also earn some cash. My father’s company was running a program which employed employees’ children on a casual basis during their school holidays to give the children a taste of the work environment. That is how I found myself at my father's company on a Monday at 7 am. A Human Resources Representative came to address us and arranged for us to be assigned to the various departments at the factory. As we waited for the Human Resources Representative to arrive, I saw a pickup truck pass by with huge pumps staked in the trunk, before it disappeared behind some buildings. I saw men in overalls written “Engineering” on the back, moving around with toolboxes. The curiosity in me was piqued. I had to see what they were all up to. I was the only student who chose Engineering. I was taken to the Stores and given a pair of overalls and safety shoes. I was excited! I was handed over to a team of men I would be working with.

The overalls completely swallowed me up, and the safety shoes were heavy.

It was an exercise to lift one foot and put it forward. On my first day, our team was called in because some blowers had failed to start and some milk that was to be used as a raw material to make powdered milk was at risk of getting spoiled. My team got to work. I was there to hand over the tools required, and I learned the names given to each tool in the process. After hours of hard work, the boilers kicked into life. The Operations team rushed in to save the milk.

This was the day that spelled it out for me. I wanted a job that had meaning and impact. I wanted a challenging job. On this day, I fell in love with Engineering and I have never looked back.

Studying Engineering required hard work. We had some casualties along the way. The University asked you to withdraw if you failed a rewrite in a course you had failed in the first sitting. The fact that this could happen made me push harder. I was not prepared to be sent home for any reason whatsoever.

Graduation day! I was over the moon. I had a brown suit tailor-made just for the occasion. Yes, it had to be a suit for this particular day. I had my hair done in a new hairstyle. I remember rocking silk stockings and heeled shoes for that day. I knew I looked great, and so did Rose, my fellow warrior for the four years. When my name was called out, I walked head held high and climbed the few steps to the podium. I knelt on a cushion just next to the then President of Zimbabwe. He touched my head with a cushion that was used to cap graduates. I was now officially a Civil Engineering graduate. That day marked the end of one chapter, as a new chapter unfolded. I was ready!

I worked as a Junior Engineer in the private, NGO, and government sectors. It was not easy being a woman alone. The patriarchal monster makes it difficult for men and even women to accept that women can be Engineers, and good ones too. Your presence is, therefore, is not left unchallenged. On this tech journey, I have battled with this blue-eyed monster and come out alive, with the scars to show. I have not given up because I believe in ME. Sometimes, all you have is "YOU". Light can never be hidden under a bushel. I was born to shine and shine I must. In previous years, I had an opportunity to be part of a team of supervising Engineers in Water and Sanitation projects in Tanzania and Uganda. I had an opportunity to spread my wings. It has been scary but worth it. I love this job because I impact communities around me. My work not only contributes to a local goal but to a global goal of ensuring that by 2030, everyone in the world has access to clean potable water and sanitation facilities.

As the heart is vital and central for our very existence, Tech is vital for me to impact communities and leave a mark in this world, to show that I was, I did and I left.

With thanks - this article was written by Joy Makumbe.

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