I recently interviewed Rachel Kakololo, a civil engineer and a member of both Engineers without Borders- Namibia (EWB-NA) and the Namibian Society of Engineers (NASE). Kakololo graduated with a Bachelor in Engineering Degree from The Namibian University of Science and Technology (NUST) and subsequently started working for the Roads Authority. Her first project was the upgrading of the Windhoek-Okahandja road to dual carriageway. The experience has been embedded in her memory and has strengthen her resolve to spend her life in engineering, “I have always aspired to be in the deep-end of engineering, as I believed that is the best way to learn.”
Kakololo spent a great deal of her formative years in the village and when she later moved to the city, she noticed the discrepancy between the standard of living in the rural areas as compared to the cities, “standards of living in our rural areas needs to improve. My drive to put the extensive knowledge taught in engineering in practice was overpowering.” Hence she became part of a technical committee that was tasked with mass land servicing in order to address the issue of land and housing scarcity in the country. With the launch of NASE in 2016 and the creation of EWB-NA as its social responsibility body, Kakololo saw an opportunity, “to involve a wider spectrum of technical professionals in solving community challenges collectively under one umbrella”.
During the launch of NASE, EWB-NA established connections with EWB-SA who warmheartedly endorsed the formation of EWB-NA. The recently concluded Namibian Engineering Week, saw EWB-SA Cofounder, Wiebke Toussaint give an insightful presentation on Community-centered engineering and the economical execution of projects. Kakololo hopes, “to grow these ties and encourage information sharing channels between EWB-NA and EWB-SA.”
Her duties within EWB-NA range from coordinating, liaising with community representatives, local councils and their engineers, which would entail working together on community based projects by volunteering expertise and time of the organisations engineers. EWB-NA’s open door policy enables members and the community to engage EWB-NA on issues affecting them and to find appropriate solutions. She is particularly passionate about the change in mindset, particularly amongst the Namibian youth, “I believe we all have immerse potential that can easily be unleashed under the right guidance.” Thus during the EWB-NA awareness drives, the organisation visits schools to encourage the youth to take up STEM careers. Not surprisingly, EWB-NA’s membership has grown over the years with technical professionals from all over the country ready to serve the community.
Kakololo feels that whilst working with EWB-NA to devise solutions to complex community problems, her “problem solving approaches have advanced... [and her] people skills have drastically improved too.” Kakololo has many projects under her belt and is currently working with Minds in Action and Friends in Education to enforce STEM education in school curriculums and is also aims to volunteer EWB-NA's expertise on Ministry of Education infrastructure development projects. A long term problem that EWB-NA is trying to resolve is the flood and drought mitigation measures for the northern Namibian region.
Kakololo sadly notes that engineering has historically been an inhospitable profession for women and that this has made many women shy away from STEM careers; but she also positively reasons that recent statistics have shown an improvement in the number of women joining the STEM field. Kakololo believes that, “women bring unique traits to the profession; [women] are more observant than [their] male counterparts are; which aids [them] in leadership as [they] can quickly pin point strengths and weaknesses.” Her advise to aspiring engineers is to “never stop learning and develop an innovative mind-set, explore and always be ready to serve and give back to society through skills application.”
Read more about this determined engineer and her journey in the insightful interview below.
1) Describe your engineering journey.
I’ve always been fascinated by science, and the idea that engineers bring ideas to life e.g; where there was once just bush and rubble a beautiful multi-story structure and a road would rise. It is for that very same reason Civil Engineering was an ideal fit for me. In addition, it enables one to contribute to the holistic development of their community and country.
I graduated with a Bachelor in Engineering Degree at The Namibian University of Science and Technology (NUST) in 2014 and subsequently started working for the Roads Authority. I was fortunate enough to land a bursary in my first year that enabled me to work during semester breaks so I had quite a lot of exposure to the industry before graduation hence I had very high expectations.
I have always aspired to be in the deep-end of engineering, as I believed that is the best way to learn. My first project was the upgrading of the Windhoek-Okahandja road to dual carriageway. I learnt a lot on construction/project management, claims resolutions and contracts administration on this respective project. The experience is still embedded in my memory and it strengthen my resolve to spend my life in engineering. Overall, it has been an amazing journey thus far.
2) What prompted your involvement in EWB-Namibia?
The realisation that what we engineers do is essential to everyday life and directly affects our communities in the essence that our work is to create products and structures that are used by people to improve lives. I wanted to give back to our community. During my studies, I was part of a group of engineering students that frequently visited respective orphanages in the informal settlements of Namibia’s capital city, Windhoek. It’s during these visits that we were exposed to the harsh realities that most of our community members were faced with; from sanitation challenges, lack of ablution facilities and safe drinking water as well as adequate shelter to name but a few. When the Namibian Society of Engineers (NASE) launched in 2016 with EWB-NA as its social responsibility body, I saw an opportunity to involve a wider spectrum of technical professionals in solving community challenges collectively under one umbrella.
3) Describe what your work at EWB-Namibia entails.
My duties within EWB-NA range from coordinating, liaising with community representatives, local councils and our engineers – working together on community based projects by volunteering our expertise and time. We have an open door policy that enables members and the community at large to engage us on issues affecting them and to find fitting solutions. We rally Namibian engineers to adopt a spirit of volunteerism and attend to the socio-economic needs of Namibians, particularly those in rural/ informal and remote areas. We believe there is a lot our engineers can do for our communities, so we will harness their capabilities and put them to work for the rural and remote societies of our country as volunteers. EWB-NA’s membership has grown over the years with technical professionals from all over the country ready to serve their respective community.
4) What sparked your interest in community development?
Having spent a great deal of my formative years in the village and moving to the city at the age of eight presented a change in environment that helped me realize just how much of a gap existed in terms of development and access to basic needs such as water, sanitation etc. The standards of living in our rural areas needs to improve. My drive to put extensive knowledge taught in engineering in practice was overpowering. In 2015, I was part of a technical committee that was tasked with the mass land servicing. The committee oversaw progress of services in 3 pilot towns (Windhoek, Walvis bay and Oshakati) in order to address the issue of land and housing scarcity in the country.
5) How have you been able to utilize your skills as an engineer to assist/empower communities?
Having worked on a range of mostly infrastructure development projects in the past three years of my career has enabled me to directly improve the quality of life for my community members. Working with communities to deliver sustainable solutions to complex social, economic and environmental problems such as hygiene and provision of safe drinking waters has been rewarding.
I am particularly passionate about the mindset-change especially amongst our youth. I believe we all have immerse potential that can easily be unleashed under the right guidance. During our EWB-NA awareness drives; we visit respective schools to sensitise and encourage the youth to strive to reach greater heights and take up careers in STEM discipline and subsequently contribute to the development of their respective communities.
6) What do you feel you have acquired/gained (both for your professional and personal development) through your association with EWB-Namibia?
When working to devise solutions to complex community problems, it is vital to have a good understanding of the context of the problems to be solved, over the years; my problem solving approaches have advanced. Safe to say my people skills have drastically improved too.
7) How would you describe your experience as a woman in the engineering/work space?
Sadly, engineering has historically been an inhospitable profession for women, which made many women shy away from careers in STEM in the past. However, statistics have shown a staggering improvement in the number of women joining the profession. Women are afforded the same opportunities at the table. My line of work involves a lot of project and contract management. Usually working around the clock to meet rather tight deadlines, coordinating finances and liaising with communities. Women bring unique traits to the profession; we are more observant than our male counterparts are; which aids us in leadership as we can quickly pin point strengths and weaknesses.
8) How do you maintain a balance between the work at your day job and your work at EWB-Namibia?
The work I do at EWB-NA compliments my job to certain extend in the sense that they are both centred on community development. The best aspect about this is that I am always busy doing work I enjoy. This in turn helps me produce my best work, which in turn keeps production at optimal levels.
9) Do you foresee any future collaborations or projects between EWB-Namibia and EWB-SA?
Most definitely. In 2016, at the launch of the Namibian Society of Engineers (NASE) and its social responsibility arm for social responsibility-EWB-NA; we established connections with EWB-SA who warmheartedly endorsed the establishment of EWB-NA. At the recently concluded Engineering Week, we had an insightful presentation from the Co-Founder of EWB-SA - Ms Wiebke Toussaint. The presentation was titled Community-centered Engineering and presented a great platform to engage the audience on how to find viable solutions and execute community centred projects economically. We hope to grow these ties and encourage information sharing channels between EWB-NA and EWB-SA.
10) Are there any interesting projects that you are working on currently or in the near future?
The 5th day of the recently concluded Engineering week unfolded under the theme “The role of Community Engineering in Nation Building”. Seminars and presentations on this meant to highlight the importance of volunteering our expertise to help better our communities in terms of technical development. The day concluded with handing over of goods to a local orphanage.
EWB-NA is in the long run trying to equip communities to be self-sufficient in maintaining their infrastructures through awareness campaigns.
We are currently working together with Minds in Action and Friends in Education to enforce STEM education in school curriculums and volunteer our expertise to consult on infrastructure development projects under the Ministry of Education.
One of the problems, we are looking to tackle in the long run is the flood and drought mitigation measures for the northern region of Namibia, where we hope to work with the office of the Ministry of Works and Transport in finding means to channel flood water and provide drainage structures.
11) What advice would you give to aspiring engineers?
Engineers are an important part of our progressive human race. My advice to aspiring engineers is to never let anyone undermine their ability. Never stop learning and develop an innovative mind-set, explore and always be ready to serve and give back to society through skills application.
Rachel Romenzo Kakololo interviewed by Dhruti Dheda