The life of a female aircraft engineer

09 March 2018 Author   Rinelda Mouton
Air Namibia has finally overcome gender stereotypes by hiring their first female aircraft engineers for the Embraer Jet (ERJ) fleet.
The trio of engineers, Elina Nependa, Foonie Kazarako and Iria Sheehama, joined Air Namibia six months ago, and their loving every minute they spend at the flag carrier. 
Nependa is an aircraft maintenance engineer (planner) who holds a diploma in electrical engineering from the Bulawayo Technical School in Zimbabwe.  She also has an aircraft maintenance aviation certificate from the Transport Education Training Authority (TETA) in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Sheehama and Kazarako are aircraft engineers (mechanical) with aircraft maintenance aviation certification from the Transport Education Training Authority (TETA) in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Nependa was born in Angola in 1983 and moved to the Land of the Brave in 1990 with her parents.  She completed her Grade 12 at the Nujoma Secondary School in the Omusati region.  Growing up, the future Air Namibia engineer was always interested in fixing and working with mechanical things.
“I remember how my mother would be livid when I would want to play with cars instead of dolls. If there was a broken down car from my friends I was the one who would find a way to fix it.  From that time I really enjoyed fixing complex things and making them work again,” she recalled.
The mother of two children, a 13-year old and baby of 7 months, said she is living her dream today because she was motivated by her parents to follow this career path.
“Despite this field being a male-dominated, my parents knew what I loved to do and what I am best at doing. They encouraged and motivated me to follow my dream because they knew this would be the only way I would be happy,” Nependa said.
Despite her achievements, the maintenance engineer said everyday she still has to ignore critics of her role as a woman doing a ‘man’s work’.
“I hear things such as:  ‘she won’t make it’, ‘this is a man’s job’ and that ‘she won’t last long.’ But I am confident that I will make it – it is not easy – nothing worth having is.  I have gotten thus far already and there is no turning back. There is surely no room for failure in my life,” a confident Nependa said.
Kazarako was born in Windhoek in 1992. She completed her secondary education at Academia Secondary School and then enrolled for engineering at the (then) Polytechnic of Namibia. 
Kazarako said being able to do her dream job is her best accomplishment thus far. “This is the dream that many people want, but I am living it. I feel very proud of myself,” she said.
Although Kazarako is happy and smiling now, she said it was not easy to get where she is today. The most difficult time for her was when she was doing her internship.
“I was always given the easier tasks from the men in my same expertise area. I was seen as a “girl who is much weaker than a boy”.  Getting where I am today was much harder.  I had to work harder than the rest (boys) to prove that I can make it. It meant a lot of sleepiness nights, studying, fixing mistakes, making repairs, networking and other things.  I spent most of my free time learning.  It was really not easy;  I needed to be strong and I was,” the 26-year old said.
For Kazarako, whose childhood dream was to become an air hostess, the most beautiful thing in the world is an aircraft.
“They (air hostesses) travel, get to see the world and meet people from different backgrounds. As a child, I was always fascinated by aircrafts. For me, it is one of the most beautiful man-made things that I have ever seen in my life.
“During my studies I found that aviation is a very interesting industry.  Whenever I see my aircraft in flight, I look into the sky and I feel proud.  I am delighted because I know that I have worked on it and put it in the sky.”
Sheehama, who was born in 1990 in the Oshilulu Village in the Omusati region and completed her studies at Iipumbu Secondary School, said her passion was always in engineering, but was compelled to study business administration instead, just because engineering was seen as a “man’s field.” 
But after three years of business studies, Sheehama dropped out and studied engineering at TETA in South Africa. 
“I was not happy with the business administration course. I knew that this was not me.  As a child I was very much fascinated about fixing things. I also enjoyed watching my brother and cousin making wire cars. I found this to be very creative,” she said.
The aircraft engineering trio encourages other women to never let anything stand in front of their dreams.
“We have made history, so can you. It was never easy for any of us, but you need to fight for your happiness all the time. Never ever be stuck in a career that you are not happy about,” they agreed.   
Twaku Kayofa, the Corporate Communications Officer: External Relations and PR at Air Namibia said they have in recent years seen an increase in the number of women interested in joining the airline in various capacities, from management to the flight crew and now in the maintenance department.
“The dream of the three women to join the sector was enabled by the Namibia Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) through the Ministry of Works and Transport. This institution financially supported the trio to pursue their studies in the aviation sector,” Kayofa explained.
He said they are pleased to have the young women at Air Namibia. “In the past the work was done by non-Namibians. Now this will ensure that money will stay in Namibia. We also want to empower women to believe in themselves and build a career in a field of their choosing,” Kayofa said. 


The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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