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Feature: Kenyan youth refine technical skills through China-sponsored contest

23 August 2016, 17:03

Nairobi (Xinhua) -- Growing up in the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa, Ann Ng'ang'a witnessed systematic discrimination against women and girls despite their abundant talent and skills that could be harnessed to fuel progress.

She was determined at a tender age to defy the stereotype that has always confined women to the margins in many Kenyan communities.

The third year student of mechanical engineering at a public college credits her mother and other female relatives who encouraged her to knock fearlessly every barrier that stood in her path with her achivements.

Ng'ang'a and a handful of young female college students have been selected to participate in this year's edition of Africa Tech Challenge, a vocational skills competition sponsored by Chinese firm, AVIC International.

During an interview with Xinhua earlier this week on the sidelines of the training for the contestants, Ng'ang'a spoke of her passion for engineering that was nurtured while she was in high school.

"I loved physics while in high school aware that it would pave way for me to take up an engineering course in college. During my younger days, girls dreaded technical courses but I decided to defy that myth," Ng'ang'a said.

She learnt about the Africa Tech Challenge in 2014 when it was launched in Kenyan tertiary institutions to boost the prowess of young adults in diverse engineering disciplines.

"Some of my friends who participated in previous editions of Africa Tech Challenge encouraged me to take it up this year. I qualified for participation in this year's contest having proved my prowess in use of machines to solve problems," she said.

She is among some 120 Kenyan students who are going through an intensive training at a university campus in the capital Nairobi in readiness for a contest to gauge their technical skills to be held in late August, alongside a dozen of students from Uganda, Zambia and Ghana.

The month-long training is covering two courses that include operation of conventional lathe machines and computer numerical control (CNC) machining.

Chinese tutors are conducting the training to boost the capacity of African engineering students to operate industrial machines.

"So far, I have learnt how to operate lathe machines at ease thanks to intensive training and mentorship. It has been possible to put theories learnt in class into practice," said Ng'ang'a.

Her ambition is to become an outstanding mechanical engineer upon graduation from college next year.

"It will be a great honor to become part of the growing army of female engineers in this country. I intend to use my spare time and mentor young girls to take up technical courses," Ng'ang'a told Xinhua.

The China-sponsored contest has provided a platform for budding young engineers in Kenya to hone their skills and network with potential employers.

This year's contest, themed of "Made in Kenya", has attracted ambitious youth from universities and vocational training institutes from different parts of the country.

Eric Chimwani, a second-year welding and fabrication student at a vocational training institute in western Kenya, said his participation at this year's contest was an eye-opener.

"My college mates alerted me about a call for participation at this year's challenge. I participated in the regional competition and was shortlisted to take part in the finals," said Chimwani.

His training on operation and maintenance of conventional lathe machines that commenced a fortnight ago has boosted his skills in mechanical engineering.

"The training is very rich in terms of content and it is not as challenging as I previously thought. Our Chinese tutors are good and share knowledge without holding back," Chimwani said, adding that future dream is to establish a workshop near his home town to earn a living through welding and fabrication.

The top three winners in the conventional lathe machines category in the contest will be awarded scholarships to study for masters' degree in mechanical engineering in China.

Executives from AVIC International say the number of Kenyan tutors and students who have gained from Africa Tech Challenge has increased tremendously.

"We have trained over 290 teachers and students with technical skills since we first launched ATC in 2014," said Qian Rong, Deputy President of AVIC International.

He said that his company had also offered cash rewards, internships and full time working opportunities for groups and individuals who demonstrate outstanding engineering prowess.

- Xinhua


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