First woman in Nigeria to graduate in mechanical engineering and founder of the ‘Lady Initiative’, which supports girls into the mechanic profession, providing both work and dignity.
She welcomes us in her large mechanic’s workshop on the outskirts of Lagos. She is wearing the blue overalls of a mechanic. She has just finished taking apart a carburetor from an old car. Sandra Ekperuah-Aguebor, is known to all as ‘Lady Mechanic’. She was the first woman mechanic of Nigeria, as she is keen to point out. But not only that. She was also the first to create a system of professional centers in different parts of the country that offer girls an education in a field considered to be almost exclusively male, that of mechanics. An area that offers many career opportunities, in a country where the youth unemployment rate is 24% and the only desire of young people is to migrate.
The exodus from Nigeria is a real wound that involves many thousands of boys and especially thousands of girls who then find themselves in the trafficking networks and in exploitation for prostitution in several European countries. “Success is in us, not in Europe”, says Lady Mechanic, who has just conducted 170 girls to their diploma. But more than 800 have already completed their studies since the ‘Lady Mechanic Initiative’ was founded in 2004, and it has spread to six regions of Nigeria, with its headquarters in Lagos.
“I worked as a mechanic for 31 years and managed my garage for 21 – says Sandra – and the ‘Lady Mechanic Initiative’ was born from that garage. I believe very much in the empowerment of women through training, skills acquisition and job creation. And I believe very much in personal commitment to create a sustainable living environment. This is why we work hard and encourage those who are with us to do the same”.
The ‘Lady Mechanic Initiative’ is a Non Profit Organisation that allows girls and women to acquire skills especially in the field of automobile repairs and more. The headquarters of ‘Lady Initiative’ is right here in this large mechanic’s workshop. The administration is entrusted to two former alumni. Between one repair job and the other, Sandra puts aside her blue mechanic’s overalls and operates at various levels to promote her initiatives both locally and internationally, but especially among the poorest people and schools.
The ‘Lady Initiative’ offers free courses that last from three months to two years, especially for girls who come from very poor backgrounds and disadvantaged or difficult family situations. But there are also young graduates who can not find work, and who are interested in a more manual kind of professionalism. “Not even a degree is sufficient in this country, – says Sandra – and because of this we offer a different kind of expertise and professionalism to get ahead in life, to start up one’s own business and not be at the mercy of employers who can leave you at home whenever they like”.
For some time now, Sandra has also begun to go into the high schools in Lagos, to promote her courses, but above all to create awareness and prevention about the hazards of going abroad. “It’s a real tragedy, the fact that many girls leave Nigeria to go in search of fortune in Europe, thinking perhaps of finding a well-paying job or a man who will keeps them and make them rich. It doesn’t work like that, – I tell them – what you will find there is your hopes plunging into the void. But it is difficult to change the mentality. To make it clear to these girls that they can build a life here with their own abilities and their own efforts, and that they do not necessarily have to depend on a man.
Indeed, often men do nothing but exploit them. Here just as abroad. Many of the girls who attended the ‘Lady Mechanic Initiative’ courses today work in transport companies, have opened their own garage or started other activities related to the mechanics industry”.
“Many of them are doing very well. I encourage them to become business women because when you have the skills and have a good job, then you will also find the dignity of being a woman. Only that way will the others, and men in particular, respect you”. And if Sandra seeks to achieve the dream of a lot of women, she does not, at the same time, give up on carrying through her own either. She aspires to, over the next five years, achieve a car prototype made only by women.
“To show that a woman can keep all of her female prerogatives and, at the same time, can do very well in a professional context that is still much too masculine. Because I believe that when a woman wants to achieve something and has the necessary skills, the will and the self-esteem, then she can certainly do it”, she tells us smiling.