Christiana Jatta, 30 years old, has taken a bold step in 2015 to switch from being a health worker to becoming a general mechanical engineer after extensive certified skill training at the Gambia Technical Training Institute. She has already registered her business and employed fellow youths, uplifting her family from inherited poverty.
“I am from a very humble family. My parents are still alive but are no longer strong. So some of my siblings are there living with them in the village while I struggle to feed them from here,” she told Xinhua.
She hails from Saruja, a village in the country’s southern part of the Central River Region, more than 281 km from Banjul, capital of The Gambia. She said her family needs her intervention as her father, who works as a watchman, is in his retirement age while the mother who sells water in the market is also getting old.
“I served as a volunteer health worker for five good years. But one faithful day in 2015, while working as a health worker in Brikamaba (a town near her village), I saw some young girls dressed in the overall of the National Water and Electricity Company working on the electricity poles,” Christiana said.
According to her, she felt that she was left behind. So she started soliciting advice, but some was discouraging since she is a woman.
“I finally met an engineer who convinced me to go and study. I knew I can do it. I knew there is no work designated to man only or woman only. And I did it. I motivated many young women since then,” she stated.
Christiana said she knew that self-employment is the only thing that could contribute significantly to turn things around for her family. So, without hesitation, she decided to make a shift to study skills.
“I like self-employment very much because you become your boss. No one dictates what to do. If I had chosen to work in the government, I would not be able to solve certain problems as I do with self-employment. With this work, I do things at my own pace and find time to learn certified skills without getting any conditioning from anyone. I go to school and continue with my work every day, and this is the beauty of self-employment,” she said.
According to her, the engineering job has changed her livelihood and that of her family. She would send money to the village every month to support her parents with feeding and other basic things.
“Again, this is the job that is paying for my studies in general mechanic engineering without anyone helping.”
Christiana’s family is living in a mud house with a dilapidated corrugated roof. But she has recently bought bags of cement to plaster the building as part of the general renovation she initiated.
“When I registered my business which provides services such as electric wiring and solar installation, I have employed many people to build my team, and all of them are young people. I still have people who are knocking on my door every day looking for a job, but I have already reached my limit. As a beginner, I couldn’t employ many people, but plans are there to expand the scope of the business to hire many skillful youngsters, especially when I begin taking heavy contracts,” she added.
But these successes do not go without challenges. Many of her potential customers doubted her ability to do this work as a woman. Moreover, it comes with discrimination and stereotypes because these skills are male-dominated in the Gambia.
“I always convince them that I can do this job,” she told Xinhua. “You must be very brave to work in a male-dominated sector, especially in our country where women are still facing such stereotypes.”
However, according to her, such perceptions are gradually fading as the evidence of her work becomes popular. Apart from her own business, Christiana also partners with her classmates to do borehole drilling and welding to expand profits.
The business is affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, she still manages good returns.