Making of an iron lady
By GODFFREY OLALI
Victoria Mutweleli’s gigantic yellow excavator roars and straddles the rugged landscape of Thwake Dam construction site like a colossus.
The middle aged lady, clad in blue jeans, yellow reflective jacket, safety boots and a white helmet, welcomes me to her work station as she watches over the darkening nimbus clouds blanketing the dam’s skyline manifesting a heavy down pour just about to make a heavy land fall.
It is April again – a season associated with long rains and often characterized by swelling of many seasonal rivers in the lower eastern regions – particularly Makueni and Kitui. But like many dedicated workers in the dam, Victoria has to keep pressing on and do what she does best for her country.
“I like operating such heavy and gigantic machines. They make my world as they open the belly of the virgin earth in a bid to construct this architectural master piece of a dam poised to change millions of lives. This has been my dream since childhood back in the village. I like what I’m doing,” says Victoria during an interview with this writer at her work station.
Born thirty-six years ago at a little known Kaathi village in Kyansasu location of then Machakos district, Victoria started loving heavy jobs even as a pupil at Kaathi Primary School where she honed her creative and dare-devil attitude as a teenager.
“I wanted to be a soldier and serve in the Kenya Army. I admired soldiers carrying guns and operating heavy artillery often associated with armed forces. But seems my luck wasn’t there. But through encouragement and support of my parents, I carried on with my dreams which saw me venturing more into a “man’s world” and showcase my ability and the fabric I’m made of,” says the mother of two who loves watching action packed movies with her favorite Hollywood characters being Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Victoria’s world has seen her work in some of Kenya’s gigantic mega infrastructural undertakings – from Kindaruma Hydroelectric Power Station – also known as Kindaruma Dam which is an embankment dam with two gravity dam sections on the Tana River to Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) – touted as one of Kenya’s leading modern infrastructure undertaking.
The soft-spoken lady associates her success to National Youth Service (NYS) where she honed some of her skills.
“After a six-months stint at National Youth Service (NYS) I did some driving jobs before joining the Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen)-owned Kindaruma Hydroelectric Power Station between year 2013-2014 as a casual labourer. I was tasked with an assignment of transporting heavy high voltage power lines meant to evacuate power from the power station to the national grid,” says the last born in a family of five – three boys and two girls.
In 2015, Victoria would later join the SGR project in Athi River where she took part in operating huge excavation machines and trucks. She stayed there until January 2019 when she joined China Ghezouba Group Company (CGGC) – the Contractor undertaking the construction of Thwake Multipurpose Dam Phase 1.
“I remember a nephew of mine had just visited the project during its formative stages. CGGC was planning to employ truck drivers and operators of heavy duty excavators. So, as luck would have it, he approached one of the staff at the company and shared my number.
After few days, I received a call to come for an interview which involved operating an excavator and driving trucks. It was successful and that’s how I joined the project,” reveals Victoria, a gospel music enthusiast who loves Tanzanian gospel ace Christina Shusho’s music.
Her work, she opines, involves strict discipline, loyalty and fidelity to employer, love for the job, utmost dedication and being a team player, thanks to her stint at NYS.
Passing through this State institution enabled her to inculcate positive attitude and values in her life. She encourages young women not to select jobs because white collar jobs are becoming scarce day-by-day.
“Most women think that such kind of heavy jobs are meant for men. They are wrong because it’s just a mindset and stereotyping of women. I want to encourage ladies to partake in nation building through such jobs so that “we can be part of history,” she advices.
Victoria, whose father Mzee James Ndetei – a retired teacher and her number one supporter – always emerged the best in most assignments she undertook right from her days in school and later work life, thanks to her father.
Her typical day begins at 5:00 am with a traditional dedication to God. She reports to her work station at 7:00 am until 6:30 pm when she goes back home, does some brief exercise to keep body fit and healthy, takes a shower and supper before she retires at around 10:00 pm. Victoria, apparently doesn’t have any favorite food.