By Bose Adebayo
They are 40 in number, all girls, and recruited from varying backgrounds and they include orphans, street girls and exploited females from various places. Considering their unenviable backgrounds, they were largely seen as being vulnerable until fate recently smiled sweetly on them.
Before their present happy change in fortune and status, some of them had combed the nook and crannies of Lagos for financial assistance which never came. Others were big time sex or flesh hawkers while the rest engaged themselves in series of unprofitable and self-destructive ventures that almost jeopardised their future.
But their contact with Sandra Aguebor Ekperuoh, who many refer to as the first female mechanic in Nigeria has now changed their story to one that has restored their hope and put smiles on their faces.
As at today, they have become adept on how cars are assembled and about 30 of them have found full time employment with reputable motor dealers, like Mitsubishi, Toyota, Honda, Landrover and BMW, among others.
This came as a result of the three years training with The Lady Mechanic Initiative of Sandra with the assistance of MTN Foundation. Last Thursday, 40 of them graduated at a ceremony that attracted their parents, the Honourable Minister for Women Affairs who represented President Umar Musa Yarâ€™Adua and dignitaries from MTN Foundation.
In spite of the heavy downpour, the occasion which took place in Victoria Island also served as a forum to launch the new Lady Mechanic garage facilities and the mobile workshop.
In her address, the Minister for Women Affairs, Hajia Sulamat Suleiman said the occasion was another landmark in the effort at empowering Nigerian women. â€œWe all know it has been said at various times that poverty has the face of a woman, women being the poorest in the society.
It is poverty that makes women and young girls to go into such vices as prostitution and (become) street urchins. This intervention by The Lady Mechanics Initiative is very apt and it is a strategic effort to eradicate and de-feminise poverty in the country,â€ she noted.
The Minister said the initiative conforms with the Presidentâ€™s Seven-Point Agenda. â€œThe initiative is not only consistent with this administrationâ€™s Seven-Point Agenda, but also expresses and validates the National Gender Policy which seeks to create a just society for all Nigerians.
It actually challenges the dynamics that perpetuate gender inequalities in Nigeria. The popular image of women presents a contradiction for Nigerian women; where they would love to work and earn a living to support their families, opportunities and employment are limited, not because they cannot do these jobs but because of the invisible restrictions placed on womenâ€™s employment by the society.
Women find themselves relegated to low skills, low paying jobs when in fact, their capabilities are far greater. The initiative is to rehabilitate and empower deprived young women to earn a sustainable livelihood,â€ she said.
She cautioned them to avoid set back in their new profession. â€œThey should not allow temporary setbacks or disappointment to prevent them from achieving their purposes in life,â€™â€˜ she warned.
Executive Secretary of MTN Foundation, Nonny Nduka-Eze said the event was a landmark one and a fulfilment of an incredible vision. â€œThis feat is even more remarkable when we consider the background stories of many of the trainees-they have endured various challenges and obstacles, which they have been able to surmount by being part of this incredible vision.
I commend you all, and wish to encourage you to push ahead as you face the reality of the Nigerian auto mechanic market. Stand with pride and dignity, having acquired the skills and accomplishments that will lead you toward self-sustenance. Your success today is even more far-reaching because it will also inspire other young women who have been discouraged by difficult circumstances.
You have proven to them with determination, hard work and commitment, one can break through barriers and accomplish great things in society. We at MTN Foundation are delighted to have been there for you during this journey. We are likewise privileged to fuel the ideas that tr
anslate into positive change in your lives,â€ she said.
Earlier in her address, the first female mechanic urged the graduands to remain focussed. â€œI beseech all of you put to put whatever you have learnt into practise. This is a breakthrough for women and it will extend to the whole federation. Women should not be relegated to the kitchen.
I am glad that the initiative kicked off in the Centre of Excellence and for the State toÂ become what it is meant for, she cannot do without the services of women. I want to encourage women to come out of their shell and be useful to the society,â€ she stated.