When Ida Faal, 25, decided to become an auto mechanic, the first stereotypes came from people closest to her. Her mother cried because to her, a mechanic garage wasn’t meant for a woman. Her teacher said she was wasting her time and life.
Ida’s initial dream was to become a banker. But she gave up after being rejected many times by banks following her graduation with Institute of Commercial Management (ICM) Certificate in Business Studies in 2016. She decided to return to school and enroll for a programme in automotive engineering at SOS Training and Production Center in The Gambia in 2017, hoping to become an auto repairer. She was also doing an online programme in car diagnostic and electronic at the same.
“The motivation was simple. I had to change field,” Ida tells The Chronicle. “I started researching about big job gap in The Gambia and in Africa. I found out something very interesting; most of us the youth love the formal sector more than the informal sector. So there is a problem,” she says.
“I loved solving problems and I realized that automotive was the answer. If you look at a car, it’s just like a normal human being. There are many factors and problems that everybody can tap and solve. I love cars and I’m so obsessed with them.”
Ida’s decision to take that route came as a shock to her family.
“My Mum was my biggest obstacle… She would be even crying, telling me ‘so after paying your school fees and after all the sufferings, you are paying me by being a ‘feeta’ [mechanic]’. She would be telling me ‘this is not happening in my house.”
The negative response from Ida’s mother and friends continued even after she started working as a mechanic.
“She (mother) would even be telling me ‘ohh you are smelly! Don’t come near me!’ Everybody would be saying that ‘you are a mechanic. Look at the way you dress’. Sometimes my mum would tell the boys to check if I am a man or a woman.”
At school, Ida faced similar criticisms. She recalls that when she went to collect an admission form at SOS training center for the automotive engineering programme, a teacher, who is now her best friend, discouraged her from enrolling for the programme.
“He told me I was going to waste my time being a mechanic because I was so beautiful and my hands were so small and pretty. He said that I should go and look for another career.”
Though Ida wept many times because of the criticisms from her family and everybody else, she remained resolute. She successfully completed her training programme earlier this years and she’s now working as a mechanic at Mechanic Express Garage. Her daily tasks include diagnosing vehicles’ problems and fixing them, as well as keeping record of their progress.
Ida has become the mechanic who appears everywhere dressed in mechanic coveralls and jumpsuits to break the stereotypes.
“Sometime I’d be going out in my coverall and people would be looking at me like a ghost.”
“…I have one philosophy and I believe that every youth in this country, in Africa and in the world must equip themselves with skills because we need those skills anywhere we are in this world.”
Ida is quickly becoming a star mechanic and her work is being recognised both in The Gambia and outside. She’s been named an Ambassador of African Union International Centre for The Education of Girls and Women (AU/CIFFA) at an event in Ethiopia.
She has also established the Clock TVET Foundation – The Gambia, an advocacy group that encourages and inspires young women in schools for skilled training.
“In next five years, I see myself as the biggest automotive entrepreneur in The Gambia, in Africa and in the world at large In Shaa Allah! I am working towards that right now through adjustments in my leadership skills, networking and education practically and academically,” Ida says.