Meet Bomet women plying their trade as mechanics

Winrose Cherotich, a 32 year old mother of two and motorcyle mechanic, at work in her makeshift garage in Bomet town on September 23, 2021. She is one of the only two female mechanics in the South Rift region.

Photo credit: Vitalis Kimutai | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The two have opted for manual, technical and not very clean mechanic work to eke out a living for their families.
  • While their peers are frequent clients at salons and boutiques to enhance their looks, the two have chosen to dirty their hands and soak their faces in the sun.



Dressed in a dusty, greasy grey overall, 24-year-old Mercy Chelangat sits on a stone next to Shell petrol station in Bomet town. She is fixing the engine of a Kawasaki motorcycle as its rider keenly watches.

About 100 metres away is Winrose Cherotich. The 32-year-old spots a handwoven hat concealing her dreadlocked jet black hair, dark blue overall and a pair of black boots. She is installing a new clutch lever on a Honda motorcycle that belongs to the county government.

Ms Chelangat is a trained mechanic while Ms Cherotich is a plant operator turned mechanic. The two are making heads turn in the South Rift region. They are trailblazers in a technical field regarded as the preserve of men.

The two have opted for manual, technical and not very clean mechanic work to eke out a living for their families. While their peers are frequent clients at salons and boutiques to enhance their looks by having their nails polished and facial scrubs, Ms Chelangat and Ms Chemutai have chosen to dirty their hands and soak their faces in the sun as they ply their trade.

“After my Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) at Salaik Primary School, I could not proceed to secondary school for lack of fees,” says Ms Chelangat, a resident of Mugango village in Bomet Central Constituency.

Mercy Chelangat, a 24-year-old mother of one and motorcyle mechanic in her garage in Bomet town on September, 23, 2021. She is one of the two female mechanics in the South Rift region.

Photo credit: Vitalis Kimutai | Nation Media Group

She was employed as a house help for five months before her uncle took her in at a garage in Bomet town and trained her to become a motorcycle mechanic.

She first learnt how to fix simple parts of a motorcycle before graduating to sophisticated ones and in slightly over six months, she had mastered the craft.

“My journey with automobiles started when I was a child. I used to tinker with a vehicle belonging to my relative in Merigi village a short distance from our parents’ home. I always wanted to fix cars,” Ms Chelangat tells nation.Africa.

The single mother of one, was frowned at when she started off as a mechanic. Men showed open bias against her, and she had to work extra hard to win their confidence.

“With time, riders and motorcycle owners realised that I have equal if not better skills than my male counterparts. We now compete on an even playground, and I have a number of loyal clients in my database,” says Ms Chelangat, a firstborn in a family of eight.

Over time, she saved money and used it to pay for fees at Sen Sei Institute of Technology in Nakuru where she trained as a plant operating in what cost Sh100,000.

She had hoped to quickly get a better paying job as a plant operator, but the dream did not come true, forcing her to revert to her mechanic duties.

“I look forward to raising enough funds to open a motorcycle spare parts outlet and make it a one stop shop,” says Ms Chelangat as she goes about her work.

Ms Cherotich, on the other hand, trained as a mechanic at a college in Bomet town, graduating in 2012.

Armed with her skills, the mother of two got a job as a mechanic but only worked for a year before taking a long leave after she fell pregnant and had to take care of her child.

No harassment

In 2019, she switched from cars to motorcycle repairs in Bomet town, opening a makeshift garage outside a spare parts shop where, over time, she built a client base.

“I have not encountered any form of harassment. I trained in this town as a mechanic and most people have seen me grow from a greenhorn to a specialist,” says Ms Cherotich, a resident of Kiplelji in Bomet Central constituency.

She, however, admits that some of her clients have repeatedly tried to make a pass on her, but as a married person, she has been polite but firm against the advances, keeping the relationship a strictly business one.

She acknowledges that engineering work always fascinated her as a child and after sitting her Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exam, she enrolled at Soi Technical Institute in Bomet town to train as a mechanic.

The two mechanics report to work at 8am and work until 6pm every day, except Sundays which they dedicate to their families.

Income

“There is money in the jua kali sector. Unfortunately, women shun the sector because most of them do not want to handle dirty stuff, yet they want money to pay their bills,” says Ms Cherotich.

Both women are disappointed that the national and county governments have not implemented policies and programs to lift up women in the informal sector.

“Special focus should be given, especially to unique areas like the ones we are engaged in, for financial support to expand the business, create employment opportunities and spur economic growth,” says Ms Chelangat.

For Ms Cherotich, “All these claims by the national and county governments of empowering women is mere talk. There is nothing tangible on the ground that has been done. We are on our own.”

The number of motorcycles has risen in the last 10 years both in the rural and urban set ups, creating employment opportunities for the youth.

But, the Covid-19 pandemic led to loss of business and employment opportunities for almost two years.

“I used to make an average of Sh2,000 daily, before Covid-19, but I can hardly earn Sh600 due to the reduced number of motorcycles on the road,” says Ms Chelangat.

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