Violet Ndalapa, 27, personifies women’s potential to become self-reliant and spur national development if they get relevant technical and vocational skills.
The last born in a family of five girls, from Chimaliro in Thyolo, went to Providence Girls Secondary School in Mulanje.
After passing Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examinations, she applied for a general fitting course and was selected to Lilongwe Technical College in 2011.
She was the only female apprentice in a general fitting class of seven. The field is usually dominated by men, but she stayed the course until she completed the three-year training in 2014.
The country’s formal apprenticeship Technical, Entrepreneurial and Vocational Education and Training (Tevet) system involves both on-the-job industrial training and institutional learning.
Ndalapa was attached to Central Region Water Board (CRWB) in Salima for on-the-job training. She later got a full-time job at the State-owned water utility that supplies water to all the nine districts in the Central Region, except Lilongwe City.
“In the region, we have four zones and four general fitters. My catchment area is Salima Zone, which covers Dwangwa, Nkhotakota and Salima,” she explains.
Ndalapa’s job mainly involves maintenance and production of spare parts for water pumps, tanks and valves.
And she does not regret taking the greasy path women often shun in preference for white-collar jobs and air-conditioned workplaces.
She explains: “From childhood, I wanted to become a secretary or an accountant, but growing up in a family of girls only, where there was nothing like female-designated tasks, [taught me that] God created men and women with equal capabilities.
“If we stop thinking we are inferior, we will discover and make full use of our talents and succeed.”
This partly explains why Ndalapa easily mingles with men and work like them.
At the start of her career, she says, many people doubted she would make it in a busy workshop dominated by men fixing metals, plastic pipes and machines using spanners, hammers, pliers and glue.
But she has some bragging rights.
“Apart from my job, I also do some personal work, such as patching shoes and making bracelets, handbags and earrings. The small-scale business is bringing extra food on my table,” she states.
Most importantly to Ndalapa, she imparts skills to Tevet trainees attached to her zone for on-job-training.
Tevet Authority (Teveta) head of corporate affairs Lewis Msasa says she is an inspiration to artisans and the youth, even those yet to enrol with Tevet.
He urges women and girls not to shy away from general fitting, plumbing, carpentry, motor vehicle mechanics and other technical jobs that are widely perceived as male fields.
Says Msasa: “The good thing about these technical skills is that when jobs are scarce, you can earn a living by employing yourself.”
“As Mary Kawar said, skills development can help build a ‘virtuous circle’ in which the quality and relevance of education and training for women and men, including the youth, fuels the innovation, investment, technological change, enterprise development, economic diversification and competitiveness that economies need to accelerate the creation of more productive jobs.”
As a role model, Ethanol Company Limited chief executive officer Lusubilo Chakaniza asks girls to shatter the mould.
“Avoid maintaining the status quo and be confident to achieve bigger dreams,” she says. “Educational qualifications open doors to so many opportunities out there, but it is what you do in the field that will earn you respect and success.”
She wants girls and women to aim higher than affirmative action, which makes some think “they will get things on a silver platter”.
Says Chakaniza: “This is not the case if you want to genuinely succeed. Whether you want to pursue a male-dominated career or not, whether you want to be a self-made entrepreneur or get a white-collar job, pursue your passion and do it well with a lot of hard work and determination.”
Recently, Tevet received financial boost for skills development from the Chinese Government, World Bank, the Chambers of Skilled and Small Businesses of Cologne (HWK).
Such investment prepares women and girls for the needs of the labour market, giving them fair chances to contribute effectively towards self-reliance and national development. n