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Sparks are flying off Tanzanian female electrician: Zanab’s story

76% of girls in Tanzania are missing out on secondary education. Poverty, early marriage and lack of support for girl’s education are all factors excluding them from their right to learn.

Zanab was 19 years old when she started pursing her unconventional dream of becoming an electrician. After finishing school she was determined to enrol on a vocational course run in partnership between British Gas Group, VSO and the Tanzanian Government. Recently graduated, Zanab is one of only two women in a new trade co-operative, with excellent skills and revving for business. She’s electric.

electrical engineer Zanab, Tanzania VSO/Will Tucker

Zanab in her first days as a professional electrician

It’s barely been a few weeks since Zanab graduated as an industrial electrician and she’s glowing with pride at the realisation of her childhood dream.

As one of only two female tradesmen in the PECAW co-operative in Mtwara, Tanzania, the 26-year-old bright spark is putting her male counterparts in their place.

She says, "I’ve wanted to do this since I was a little girl. My brother is an electrician and watching him at work inspired me."

However when around 76% of girls miss out on a secondary education in Tanzania, this could easily not have happened for Zanab.

She notes that many issues have stopped her peers from continuing their studies. “They have a lack of confidence and self-belief, they feel lost. Some live in poverty so they are married early because their parents think it might offer their daughter a better life. That happened to some of my friends.”

Partners sharing skills


It took a couple of tries before Zanab was able to land a place on a trade course delivered by the government-run Vocational Education Training Association [VETA].

For the past two years, that course has been making huge improvements in teaching quality and educational achievements. That’s largely in thanks to a partnership with British Gas Group [BG Group] and VSO.

Staff at BG Group work with the college staff to build advice on employment opportunities into the curriculum and share knowledge on the latest technological developments. It filters down so that graduates get the right level of qualifications to compete for jobs within high-tech industries.

VSO volunteers like Michael Paddon have been also boosting the skill set of course teachers so that they can better educate students on the practical work, and is helping to improve the systems used by VETA for maintaining the demonstration machinery.

 

Vocational training, Mtwara, Tanzania ©VSO/Ben Langdon

Future’s bright

Now she has completed her studies, Zanab has joined together with her cohort to form the 20-strong co-operative PECAW, or “Plumbing, Electrician, Carpentry And Welding”- the trades they will offer.

All the challenges she’s faced have become worthwhile, and she’s certainly igniting a change in attitudes.

Zanab says, “Girls in my village thought I might not get married because men wouldn’t want a woman who could do the same as them. But I had boys at school congratulating me. I was tolerant and patient and hardworking, that kept me focussed. I feel equal to men at work. They treat me like an electrician, not a girl.

“Girls should not give up if they want to get a better life. They shouldn’t think that some trades are just for men. They should focus on education because other things will follow after that. I believe that many girls will be like me one day.”

Being in a co-operative has many benefits. Members pay a percentage of their income from their daily contracts into the group’s shared account. They can invest this sum into maintenance, materials and rent for their first workshop.

By working together across their trades, the group hope to build a reputation as a profitable ‘one stop shop’ for high quality industrial and domestic trade in Mtwara.

It’s only the first few weeks of being a professional electrician but Zanab has already been voted Treasurer and has high hopes for her future.

She says proudly, “This is a good job. I could earn about Tsh 1,000,000 [£345] a month! I want to construct my own house, and support other girls to be good artisans, and above all, I want to be the boss of my own business.”

Current vacancies

VSO needs educational professionals like you to help develop vocational training institutes in Uganda and Tanzania so that more young people like Zanab can develop the skills and confidence to make their way in the world. 

Electrical installation and maintenance adviser - Tanzania

Vocational training adviser - Uganda 

All volunteer opportunities