A Young Woman Doing "Man's" Work

mechanics classIngabire Donatha grew up alongside her eight cousins when her maternal uncle stepped in to raise her. Donatha lost both of her parents as a baby and fortunately had a caring family member who brought her into his family. Now at 18, she faces the obstacle of funds to complete her education. That’s when she met the Commission Chrétienne de Lutte Contre le SIDA (Christian Commission for the Struggle Against AIDS or CCLS), an organization of 30 local churches who work together to address the needs of families affected by HIV. CCLS offered Donatha the opportunity to attend vocational training and she decided to study mechanics. When asked about her choice, she “feels it is a field that will enable me to earn my own living.” That’s a confident choice for a young woman.

Ingabire Donatha in class

Having been raised around boys, Donatha says “I am not hung-up on the fact that I am training alongside guys in a profession that is traditionally associated with men, but rather I am relieved to be passing my exams and happy to be respected by my peers.” She said that training together helped the young men and women to also learn to relate to each other.  In her words, “I learn things from the guys, and they learn things from me.” In just three more months of training, she’ll join the workforce as a driver and mechanic.

In a world that is still often dominated by men, women and young women sometimes struggle to gain employment and job skills in more profitable fields. However, when given the opportunity, these same young women often shine and find new hope.

graduating students

Such is the case in Rubavu, in the Western Province of Rwanda, where Donatha and CCLS are located. In addition to activities that aim to reduce stigma and help children access education, CCLS provides youth with vocational training coupled with ongoing coaching, training on basic life skills, mentorship and support as they set off to start their own businesses. This support is offered to both teenage men and women, and especially those who have lost their parents and are now the heads of their households.This program helps young people to reengage in community and earn income they can use to support their families. Donatha is one of two young women at CCLS who joined a group of 22 young men to study vocations traditionally dominated by men: mechanics, electricity and welding.

CCLS offers many forms of vocational training, from tailoring to hairstyling and mechanics. The common thread is that they offer youth who have often been marginalized socially and economically an opportunity to sustainably support their families, while gaining skills that build confidence and independence.

This story was written by guest blogger and Firelight volunteer Myriam Scally. Myriam is a Doctorate of Public Health student at Boston University. She’s currently in the Dominican Republic helping to launch a project to improve the quality of care at an HIV treatment clinic.