NAIROBI, May 24 (Xinhua) — Growing up in a farming village in northwestern Kenya, Tabitha Kiplimo had to challenge entrenched gender stereotypes to prove that career success was not the preserve of her male peers.
The 30-year-old electrical engineering major was recruited by the 480km Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) contractor shortly after graduation, where his skills and agility proved to be a valuable asset.
According to Kiplimo, an internship with China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) which was building the modern railway line gave him a platform to hone his skills in addition to improving cross-cultural interaction.
Ahead of the launch of the Mombasa-Nairobi SGR commuter rail service on May 31, 2017, Kiplimo traveled to China to complete a two-month course in locomotive operations, marking a milestone in his career growth.
“We trained on the critical aspects of locomotive operation, including signaling, braking system and engine,” Kiplimo told Xinhua in a recent interview. “The training has been continuous and we feel qualified enough to lead the Mombasa-Nairobi SGR passenger train as its contribution to the country’s economic transformation becomes abundantly clear.”
Kiplimo said driving the modern passenger train under the supervision of a Chinese instructor since mid-2017 has been an exciting experience. She admitted she never expected she would ever find herself in an otherwise male-dominated field, while crediting her Chinese parents, guardians and instructors for pushing her to go the distance , regardless of setbacks.
“I am therefore honored to be part of the pioneering group of SGR women locomotive drivers. It is an inspiration to young girls who I believe will be up to the task when they grow up”, a- she declared.
Currently being promoted to a mid-level management position by operator SGR, Kiplimo said in the past two months that she has taken on some high-level duties such as data analysis. She revealed that she will soon be working at the Locomotive Dispatch Office where she will handle technical duties, a reaffirmation of her steady career growth nearly five years since becoming a locomotive engineer.
Ahead of the fifth anniversary since its launch, the Mombasa-Nairobi passenger train service, in addition to revolutionizing mobility and commerce along its corridor, has also advanced gender equality in its core operations, according to Shallom Waweru, a locomotive driver in her late twenties.
Waweru majored in education and Chinese language at a public university and in 2016, soon after her recruitment by the CRBC, she traveled to China to undergo rigorous training in all aspects of locomotive operation.
“The training in China revolved around theory and practice of operating a locomotive and when we returned in 2017, we joined the newly launched SGR locomotive as drivers,” Waweru said.
Waweru insisted that running the locomotive under supervision for nearly five years was a rewarding experience, and his curiosity, agility and courage paved the way for steady professional mobility.
Waweru still drives the Mombasa-Nairobi SGR passenger train, but she has been given some managerial duties including coordination. The team spirit, highly valued by her employer, has created an environment where female locomotive engineers can thrive, Waweru said, adding that she looked forward to mentoring the young girls to thrive. venture into technical fields.
“As I continue to hone my knowledge and skills in locomotive driving, I look forward to transferring the same expertise to young girls. They should be encouraged to pursue careers of a technical nature,” Waweru said.
She confessed that she toyed with the idea of becoming a locomotive driver at a tender age when she was growing up in a rural village in the plains of southeastern Kenya, after seeing old wagons rushing along a meter gauge railway nearby.
As for Elizabeth Wanjala, a Chinese language student in her late 20s, joining the ranks of the first group of SGR female locomotive drivers in 2017 paved the way for career growth and financial independence.
Wanjala traveled to China in early 2017 for a three-month training in locomotive operation and upon her return to Kenya, she began driving the Mombasa-Nairobi SGR passenger train, under the supervision of Chinese instructors .
“It is a great honor to be part of the first group of female SGR locomotive drivers in the country and I look forward to the growth of our railway economy,” Wanjala said.
Having been elevated to a mid-level managerial position, Wanjala said her responsibilities have expanded to include planning and coordinating with other engine drivers.