WomEng Kenya: My time at WomEng Kenya Fellowship.
"Have you ever had that feeling that something should be in existence? And you wonder why no one else has ever thought of making it happen? And because of that you dismiss your brilliant idea because you assume that if no one else has done it then there must be a problem with it?? (Have you?). You then resign yourself to the fact that you are doomed because you chose the path less taken and therefore you must walk it alone because…you know, it is the path less taken. You therefore start acquainting yourself with your new found companion, loneliness, who hugs you like a cold wet blanket but you don’t have a choice because it is better to have her as a companion than to have no companion at all. And then, AND THEN, after you have dismissed your idea, you later find out that someone else took it up and made something happen and it turned out that it was something so big. And you are then filled with exquisite joy because finally you can be a part of something bigger than you? Have you really ever been there? Well then, this my friends, is the path of a female engineer in Kenya.
For the five years that I was in school, I saw lady engineering students graduate with excellent grades and then go on to conquer the world with a pen and a brain. However, that is the much I can tell you about them. It is almost like they disappeared into thin air. Like that idea that comes at three a.m. in the morning and is lost between getting up from the bed, peeing, and finding a notebook and pen to write it down, because let’s face it, no one sleeps with a pen and paper next to their pillow.
I always asked myself, where are the lady engineers who graduated 15, 20 years ago? What did they do with the five gruesome years in the corridors and laboratories of engineering school? Did they start their consultancy firms? Did they shun their feminism so that they could fit into this male dominated field called engineering? Did they go into management, and if so where? Did they buckle under the pressure of such a demanding career and perhaps opted for a less demanding one? Did they fall in love and embrace their maternal instincts so much that they became housewives? Really? Where are the ladies who are running the engineering world?
The ache to find experienced, sexy, female engineers who had conquered the industry to mentor me and sort of give me a heads up (not on being sexy because…well, that is covered) but on the engineering field and how it’s different for women, became even more intense as I entered into my societal launching stage. So when I learned about WomEng, I felt like someone had opened a window of a stuffy room.
WomEng (Women in Engineering) is an organization that brings together women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields, with a strong emphasis on engineering together, for a weekend of learning, training, networking and most importantly, mentor-ship. It gets practicing female engineers to mentor student female engineers because they need it. I mean, engineering is fun and all, but we are women and we are different and we need to stick together. This program was first started in South Africa by a brilliant lady who felt the same way I did and 9 years later, it was launched in Kenya. It is an incredible program and I can’t wait for it to really take root in Kenya.
Being in that forum felt like bumping into a small Kenyan community in Iceland. It was refreshing and I felt like, finally, geeks I can relate to. People who like lipstick and heels just as much as they like designing bridges and manufacturing plants. People who can fix a scrumptious meal in the kitchen and fix a malfunctioning pump with the same pair of hands. People who wear mascara on their eyes and then wear the safety goggles and weld two pieces of metals together. It felt like the same species had come together. Where it was okay to have a cleavage and still have a brain, and to make it even better, nobody cared about you cleavage. Where the conversation could switch from “Is that ruby woo on your lips”, to “We are going to need GSM technology, a GPS tracking system and a micro-controller if we are going to make this devise work”. It was, in a word, comfortable.
My favorite part of the day was listening to a practicing female civil engineer tell us about how she would carry her babies to work with her, watch them and still get time to make sure that the road construction she was supervising was being done to perfection. All the time she was talking, I had this surge of elation and my inner self would just not stop dancing to Beyoncé, “Who run the world? Girls!”
I could see future me, standing in front of several brilliant budding engineers and sharing my story of how I am juggling running a plant, raising my babies and changing my community in an incredible way. It was so beautiful. A tear almost rolled down my cheek as I pictured how all those lovely women would be inspired by listening to my story and how they would also do the same in their future selves. And it would be a continuous circle of fiery inspiration and conquering and celebration and sisterhood. And I sighed. A sigh of hope. A sigh of gratitude."
By Alice Wanjiru (WomEng Kenya 2015 Fellow)