Mercy Obiro, a 24-year-old living near the shores of Lake Victoria in Kisumu City knows how tough life can be living in a city with no job, no prospects and no hope. “You never really understand the value of opportunity until you feel like you have none,” cautions Mercy.
As a child, she would often daydream about growing up; that one day she would be successful and have the kind of job that would tear her away from the poverty she had known all her life. They say that you really never understand the value of opportunity until it has passed you by. What if opportunity never seemed to knock at your door and life felt like a series of bad events happening one after another? That was how life was like for Mercy Obiro after completing form four in 2013.
Mercy is one of the unfortunate 320,000 form four leavers in Kenya who get locked out of any form of tertiary education each year. The 31 Public universities in Kenya can only absorb about 67,000 students each year leaving only 11,000 who can afford to join private universities and colleges. This was not an option for Mercy whose parents could barely afford upkeep for her family and there began Mercy’s rude awakening into adulthood.
“Life was cruel,” described Mercy. “I did small jobs like washing dishes at funerals, but the money was not enough. I finally found myself looking for a job as a house girl.” Despite attaining a C Minus grade, Mercy, resorted to taking the only job she got at the time which was that of a house girl and as fate would have it, the job involved working odd hours, leaving her workplace late at night.
Mercy’s luck continued to take a turn for the worse when in just three short months on the job, she was attacked and injured one night as she left her place of work. She recalls the two thugs pouncing on her, clamoring for her few coins and leaving her bruised, helpless and afraid for her life which forced her to quit that job, go back home and ponder what to do next. “As I was nursing my wounds,” recalled Mercy as if she saw an angel switch on the light at the end of the tunnel, “a friend told me about the Vusha Girls Employability Program which I immediately applied for.”
A resilient Mercy, who at the time had scanty information about what the the Vusha Girls Employability Program, was all about, knew only too well to grab at any opportunity that came her way and immediately visited the training centre and filled in the paper work.
Vusha Girls Employability Program run by the African Centre for Women, Information & Communications Technology’s (ACWICT) DREAMS Innovation Challenge project is committed to decreasing risk for transactional sex work and HIV infection among disadvantaged young women from the slums of Nairobi and Kisumu by improving knowledge and skills to obtain and remain in gainful employment.
On 20th February 2017, Mercy began training on the core training modules offered. During the next phase of training where students get to select 1 vocational course of their choice, Mercy remembers falling back into her old ways, opting to take food & beverage, which she did not really like but felt it was a safe bet as it was most similar to the odd jobs she has done in the past.
Though she recalls always having this pull towards fixing cars, she felt it was beyond her reach and perhaps not suitable. On further consultation and appreciating that the Motor Vehicle Mechanic Vocational Trade which was in fact being offered in an all-girls training program meant it was her time to ignore her fear and sign up for it. Mercy could not happier with her decision. She found the course very clear, informative and her trainers very helpful each step of the way.
“Finally, my life started to look easy and very interesting. I had found my passion.” She recalled.
On graduating, she was placed at Tuju Garage, where she completed her internship and thereafter retained as an employee due her can-do attitude and willingness to learn and adopt. She currently earns a daily wage of Ksh. 200 per day.
“I now have a house I rent, I help my parents and life is getting easier.”
The technical skills she had learnt in the course, have helped her perform well at work; understanding the industry jargon and fixing cars as if she born to do just that. You can tell how proud she is of her job as she rants away about engine suspensions, pistons, mountings and even cracked a joke about how not only humans have arms but cars too which she can also fix by the way.
In addition to her trade, she reports that the life skills training has also come in handy as the only female employee, surrounded only by male colleagues. Navigating through the work day has not been difficult as she is able to integrate well with the team and provide value to her employer.
Mercy, previously soft spoken and withdrawn, was featured on a local radio station, Ramogi FM, to talk about her experience as a female mechanic, answered every question with elegance and confidence, a thing she would never have imagined doing prior to DREAMS VGEP. She holds now her head up high because she feels confident that she is now a “SOMEBODY”; a force to reckoned with.
Outside of her career, Mercy is no stranger to the issues facing girls on the way to the top; unwanted pregnancies, HIV and other issues. The program equipped her with the knowledge on how to stay safe and plan her family life in a way that supports her career goals.
As sweet as Mercy is finding life nowadays, she is always on the lookout for opportunities to better her life. Just recently, she applied for a course at Toyota Kenya Nairobi Academy. Out of 900 applicants, she was among the top 15 to join the course will include training on motor vehicle mechanics, basic wiring and entrepreneurship. She looks forward to getting a job in Toyota Kenya after completing the course.
Her 5-year goal is to continue elevating her skills and one set up her very own motor vehicle spares shop and garage.
… and that is how a great mechanic was born.