“The biggest barriers are in our minds”
Female welder burns down prejudices
She was told by people around her that it’s boy’s work and she should not do it, but she persevered through difficulties and is now self-employed. Aimée Tuyisenge’s involvement in a job that women usually shy away from was not a surprise to those who really knew her, but still shocks those who see her for the first time. The 22-year- old always loved mechanics and welding.
“I guess it all came from my upbringing, since I grew up in a military camp in Huye from the time I was four till the late 1999,” remarked Tuyisenge. “My mother passed away when I was three months and my father was killed in the genocide when I was four.”
After the war, she was taken in by a soldier who raised her in the said camp where she was the only girl and the other children, older than her, were all boys. All the games that she played were with them, and when she left the military camp with an aunt who came to claim her, it was easier for her to relate to boys than girls.
But her life was not made easy for the beloved aunt passed away a year later, leaving her in the care of another one where she had to fend for herself from a young age. While in lower secondary, she had to find something to do and started selling nuts at the side to be able to make ends meet. Her schooling was marked with irregularities as she had problems with the fees.
“When I was choosing what option to follow in higher secondary, I just chose things that interested me the most and, good enough, I was allowed to study general mechanic in Eto Muhima,” Tuyisenge said.
The courses she took included electricity, mechanic and welding among others. She was the only girl in her class of 48 students and people just kept asking her if she was not uncomfortable in a class full of boys. But in the end she was not able to write the final national exam due to a lack of fees.
Being the fighter that she is, Tuyisenge did not let that defeat her and she went to look for a job, which she got in a garage. People coming in the garage were surprised to see a girl repairing cars. “Some people would insist that I be the one to work on their cars just to see if I really could do it,” she recalled.
Eventually Tuyisenge left the garage to focus more on what really was at her heart: welding. She started working for some Arabs and Ugandans where they were making tanks for trucks that carry petrol among other things they were doing there. “But I was not satisfied with working for other people, so I started working on my own,” pointed out Tuyisenge.
In the beginning things were not easy as she did not have her own tools. “I was doing some odd jobs and I would rent other people’s tools to be able to do it,” she remarked. But her hard work paid off and in 2010 she was finally able to buy her own tools.
Having learned responsibility at a young age thanks to taking care of her departed aunt’s children, Tuyisenge had a motto that kept her going through the hard times. “I would tell myself that I may have a hard life but I will live,” she remembered. She was able to buy a house outside of Kigali where she put the children. “We were not able to stay in the city, so I though it may be easier to help them from that side.”
Tuyisenge still kept getting the remarks, especially from other women, that the work was not for women mostly basing themselves on some risks that come with the work like some burns to the face and the fact that despite wearing protection it can be dangerous for the eyes.
She was thankful when she received the training by Goldman Sachs in 2010, which helped her to broaden her horizon. “Besides training us in management and marketing, they taught us to make people around us productive, which is what I am currently trying to do.”
And the way to accomplish that is giving free lessons in welding to willing students who come to her. “I do it because I know that their prosperity is my prosperity,” said Tuyisenge. She is currently teaching ten students and five of them are women, to her delight. She has seven boys that have finished training and are now working for themselves.
But despite her experience and skill, Tuyisenge still faces some difficulties at times to get hired to do the job she knows how to do. “Some people refuse to hire me at first because I am a girl as they are skeptical that a girl can do it well,” she said, expressing her sadness that people’s understanding and perceptions are still to change.
Tuyisenge, who now makes many different things in metal including furniture, doors, windows and metal stoves among others, can still repair cars once in a while when owners seek her out. When she is not working, she can still generate some income by renting out her tools to others. And whenever she gets away from all this, she has time to exercise and enjoy herself practicing karate where she is a green belt holder.
From her experience in life, she urges others not to let themselves be knocked out by circumstances or people’s perceptions. “I have noticed that the biggest barriers are in our minds,” she said encouraging women to get rid of those and know that they can do anything as long as they are of a mind to, are healthy and have the opportunity. She remarked that “After all, it’s true that where there is a will, there is a way.”