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A pipe, a spanner and a girl

She grips the adjustable spanner, wraps her fingers tightly around the long thin steel pipe then carefully and slowly rotates the spanner around the edges. Kneeling on the ground, she quietly works her way through the small pipe, pushing the wrench back and forth with acute precision. A few feet away, two men and one girl look on with keen interest, watching her as she picks a faucet and fits it on the pipe. She stands up to admire the result then, with a satisfied look on her face, she motions to one of the men to bring her another tool to finalize the job. It is easy to tell that this young woman is leading this group of three.

This young woman is a certified plumber.

She is a graduate of our vocational training programme.

Her name is Susan.

When we paid her a visit, she had been hired to oversee the installation of a 500 litres water tank at a newly constructed house in a wealthy suburb of Lilongwe City. The job was commissioned to Susan and her three colleagues but Susan was leading the pack.

It was something that Susan never dreamed of, she admitted. According to Susan, she never imagined that one day she could be able to financially support herself, let alone be in charge of other people. For starters, Susan is involved in a trade that is largely thought of as a man’s job. Actually, that is the misconception that many people in Susan’s community believe. That reason alone was enough to discourage the ordinary girl in the village from pursuing the trade.

But Susan was no ordinary girl. She wanted to prove that there is no such thing as a man’s job. She was set to invalidate the tradition in most rural communities that a woman’s place is at the fireplace or within the confines of the kitchen. Susan wanted to pursue a profession that is, as she put it, ‘feared by most women’.

There was also another reason….

“I am one of the girls whose future was bleak. When I completed my secondary school, I did not know what to do next because my parents had no money to send me for further education,” she disclosed continuing that “I come from a poor background and I was looking for a possible way of escaping that life.”

With that goal in mind Susan enrolled in a plumbing course in our vocational training programme in 2018.

Coincidentally, that was also the year that we introduced the course courtesy of a grant from the European Union (EU). It was also the same year that we had implemented campaigns to encourage women and girls to join construction related trades which have for long been dominated by men. Since Susan was adamant about proving that gender equity is possible in construction jobs, she made sure that she excelled at the Plumbing course.

“Of course, there were some challenges I experienced but I disregarded these challenges and worked too hard to complete my course,” she said. The poverty that her parents faced back home coupled with the vision that she had of escaping that predicament also motivated her to put her best effort in her training. Her hard work paid off in ways she could have never predicted.

When she graduated, it did not take long for Susan to start getting hired for plumbing jobs. People would call her to install taps, maintain broken water ways, fix water tanks and a horde of other jobs related to her course. Suddenly, Susan’s financial standards began to improve. For instance, Susan moved to Lilongwe, Malawi’s Capital city and rented a house. She considers this to be the biggest change in her life because it signified financial independence. As she disclosed, it is not easy for a girl to move from the typical village and manage to rent a house in the city.

“I never thought that a day would come when I would earn my own wages and be able to manage my own budget,” she chuckled.

Every month, Susan sends money back home to her parents to help them make ends meet. Gradually, her dream of escaping poverty in the village is taking shape and it is something she is very proud of. Most importantly, at this time of the coronavirus crisis when a lot of people lost their jobs and struggle to survive, the earnings that Susan make are supporting her through the crisis. The training she did has really come in handy during this pressing period.

That is not the only change that she experienced.

The certificate that she obtained from our vocational training school helped her to secure a job as a Plumbing teacher at New Beginnings, a local charity in Lilongwe. She earns a salary which has also considerably transformed her living standards. Susan is a pillar of hope to other girls and a symbol that indeed a woman can work in any field that a man works in. She uses her profession to encourage fellow girls to believe in themselves. Susan hopes that she will be able to motivate a lot of women and girls to stop relying on other people for help.

“I am always telling girls to work hard so that those who despise them today will respect them and look up to them in the future. Look at me, I can do everything by myself,”