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Changing the mindset

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When you go to Mponela Community Technical College and meet one Justina Frank, 20, from Dowa, her splendid appearance alone would make one think she is a student pursuing a course in beauty parlour.

Her light skin complexion coupled with a hot multi-coloured braided hairstyle with the red lipstick she is wearing, the girl from Dowa would attract your attention and draw your admiration glances with sincere smiles.

You would not think that such a soft-skinned looking girl would be associated with a trade that requires application of some sort of excessive labour force.

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But to your surprise, Justina is just but one of the students at Mponela Community Technical College pursuing a trade in plumbing.

“Many girls view technical jobs like plumbing as those that can be done by men only not women. So I am determined to defy that and change that mindset,” says the soft-spoken Justina while holding by its I-beam handle, a 40 inches Ridgid Heavy Duty Pipe Wrench used to tighten or loosen plumbing pipe joints.

Justina, who is president for all students at the college, draws her inspiration from a certain man in her locality back home who makes a good living from being a plumber.

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“The only time I thought of quitting this trade during training was the time we were fixing our broken toilets and sewage pipes right here at the college. But having gone through such backbreaking exercise, now I can handle all types of laborious jobs that require the attention of a plumber,” she says.

Even when Justina got admitted into Mponela Community Technical College, her own parents expressed doubt that she would manage to successfully undergo a trade, so demanding and mostly viewed as male job.

“My own parents were sceptical. They were expecting me to take up trades associated with office work like secretarial and business administration studies. They just played ‘let’s wait and see’, thinking one day I was going to surrender, down tools and quit the training after encountering the demands that this trade requires,” she says.

But after just completing the very first term of her training, when she got back home during holiday, even the parents that were in the first place sceptical of Justina’s enthusiasm to pursue plumbing got surprised to see that she was able to fix some of the broken equipment right at her parents’ compound.

As this was not enough, even some male students in her class, in the first days of training, kept mocking the girls, saying they had just come in the department to find suitors for marriage.

“We were being mocked by our male counterparts. Even some girls pursuing some ‘lighter trades like textile and fashion design’ poked fun at us saying we had just gone into plumbing to find marriage partners. They were wondering as to how girls like me could pursue a strenuous trade like plumbing,” she says.

Justina, who has set her sight to go all the way and probably become ‘a big contractor’ in future, says she is determined to achieve more and change people’s mindset that trades like plumbing are meant for men only.

Mponela Community Technical College Acting Principal Geoffrey Matola says it is time people have to change their mindset and stop looking at trades like plumbing, fabrication and welding, carpentry and joinery as well as bricklaying as being courses that only men can pursue.

While observing that at Mponela Community Technical College there is a significant number of girls in the textile and fashion design unlike in other trades, since it is viewed as less demanding, Matola says even a few girls like Justina that are pursuing trades like plumbing, fabrication and welding, carpentry and joinery as well as bricklaying are performing equally good.

“It is time people removed the misconception that technical job like plumbing is a man’s trade,” he says.

According to Matola, currently, Mponela Community Technical College, which opened its doors in 2015 and saw the first crop of students graduate in 2016, has 37 girls out of 100 students undergoing a two-year course in all the five trades the college is offering under the supervision and support from Technical Entrepreneurial Vocational Education and Training Authority.

“Even the community around Mponela Community Technical College is benefitting as time and again students are called to undertake various exercises that are in line with what is being offered for training at the college, of cause at a fee,” he says.

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