When we think of welding, naturally, our first thought is that it is a male-centred trade; not one for a lady like Charlotte Ingabire. Yet today, she is one of the professionals in the field owing to the training she received from Swisscontact’s project Promoting Market-Oriented Skills Training (PROMOST) in the Great Lakes Region.
Charlotte is tactful. “Although there were other trades I could have chosen from, I picked welding because few women had enrolled to learn this specific skill. I wanted people to be surprised when they saw what I could do. I wanted to use this peculiarity to get more orders.”
At 25, Charlotte lives with her mother and little sister. Despite her being a high school dropout, she is the sole breadwinner providing upkeep for her family. Although she is happy with what she has achieved so far, Charlotte’s life was not always on a smooth path.
“I did odd jobs on farms to earn some money. These were hard to come by, and when I was lucky, I made CHF 0.50 a day. Because of the inconsistency in getting these cultivating jobs, I diversified my search to casual government jobs like cleaning roads, cutting trees and picking rubbish. The local authorities knew I had not completed high school and understood my circumstances. One day, they called me to inform me about the skills development project by Swisscontact. I thought it was an excellent opportunity to pursue seeing as my former school mates had already completed high school and obtained their academic certificates. ‘What do I have to lose by attending the training anyway?” I asked myself.
Charlotte underwent a three-month short-term training courtesy of the PROMOST project in a welding institution.
“At first, I was afraid and frustrated when I tried to use some of the tools. I didn’t have the strength to press and light up some equipment. It was hard, especially as men would come and laugh at me. They’d ask questions like ‘Why are you doing this? You don’t have anything else to do?’ And they’d say that this type of work was only for men not women. It made me sad, but because I had not finished school, and I knew where I wanted to be, I worked hard to complete the training sessions.”
Despite her interest and determination, Charlotte found that the journey was an uphill battle.
“I took days to figure out how to use the welding machine, but once I learnt, I was able to do many things. I was thrilled when I completed welding my first window. Now I’m able to work on anything that requires metal like gates, windows, chairs and doors.”
Charlotte also underwent entrepreneurship training where she learnt about the importance of delivering quality work, creativity and good customer care skills.
“I get more clients than my male counterparts because I ensure my finishing is clean; I pay attention to the details and I know how to manage my time well and keep my clients satisfied. The fact that I have a regimented routine and sacrifice my free time to deliver to my clients also helps.”
“There are no bad feelings between myself and the men I work with. After the training, we decided to unite, and we formed a cooperative. All 17 of us own the machines as shared assets, but the money I work for is mine. When a big order is placed, we share the job amongst ourselves. I only pay for electricity. At the end of the month, after I’ve gone through all my expenses and have supported my family, I’m able to save about CHF 31 with my mavuno savings group.
Charlotte gets support from her family and plans to open her own welding company in future.
Promoting Market-Oriented Skills Training in the Great Lakes Region
PROMOST (Promoting Market-Oriented Skills Training) in the Great Lakes Region is currently in its eighth year of operations. It is about to round up the third phase of the 12-year SDC programme that aims to support the Government of Rwanda’s efforts to improve access to, as well as the quality and relevance of, its TVET system. The project has a regional dimension and has extended its activities to Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. PROMOST is financed by SDC (Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation) and implemented by Swisscontact.