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You were driven by a woman and you didn't even know it - meet Wendy Kathambi
Pulse Youth Mtaani with Wendy Kathambi
If you have used the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) service to travel to Mombasa or from the Coast to Nairobi, you were likely driven by a woman and you didn't even realize.
The SGR Passenger train makes two round trips daily and has so far enlisted seven women engine drivers in it's operations.
Pulse Live caught up with Wendy Kathambi, one of the drivers steering the Madaraka Express on the daily.
What do you call someone who steers a train?
"We are called Engine Drivers. Not a captain, not a pilot, drivers. You could also refer to us as Locomotive Drivers or just simply as Train Drivers. What I do, specifically, is I am an SGR Passenger Train Driver," Wendy starts off by clarifying.
Should you be curious and Google the title, you will meet images of old white men at the engine of a train, nothing at all like Ms Kathambi.
So we were curious at how, back when she was 26 years old, Wendy chose to seek out an opportunity as a locomotive driver.
"It happened that I had done a course that they required so I applied and they called me for training and here I am," she explains, modestly.
Wendy is an Electrical Engineer, a course she tells us she took out of her own personal interest and with immense support from family and friends.
"When I was in High School I wanted to either do Electrical Engineering or Journalism and eventually I settled on engineering.
"All my life I've had support, people telling me that yes I can do this and 'you're doing well'. People in my support system have always reminded me that I can do anything if I put my mind to it," she narrates.
What goes into driving the SGR?
Wendy tells us that she doesn't find her job at all intimidating. She mentions that the job, like any other, has its challenges but they have not deterred her from living the dream she had going in.
"It's not a difficult job because one is really trained and you acquire the right skills for the job so you go in very confident about yourself. Experience also matters, I can say for a fact that I am not the same kind of driver I was when I began training," she explains.
She also adds that steering an engine is quite similar to how the cockpit of a plane works.
"It pretty much works just like a plane, we have the Driver and an Assistant Driver. The work of the Driver is to control the speed of the train and the work of the Assistant is to be a look-out, to ensure that there are no obstacles on the track and that we do not get into an accident by hitting wildlife or even people on the tracks," she outlines.
With the SGR Passenger Train Service still managed by the Africa Star Railway Operations Company (Afristar), a subsidiary of China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC), Wendy confirms that Kenyan drivers still have to work together with the Chinese contractors who manage the service.
"There's still the language barrier since we work hand-in-hand with the Chinese so most of us took the initiative to learn the Chinese language to ease with communication.
"Once you become a main driver, you qualify to be in management automatically and of the responsibilities is to train assistant drivers in what is called localization," she explains.
Wendy's Parting Shot
With such an involving job (which Wendy assures us does not require heavy lifting), Wendy has created an online persona on TikTok where she shares fun videos with a wide-reaching, engaged audience.
She is also passionate about encouraging all young girls to pursue careers that have been traditionally affiliated with men.
"Mine is basically to inspire the young ladies out there, those who have been made to feel like they shouldn't pursue certain careers because of the challenges or because they do not have the support they need. I hope that when they see me they know that they can achieve anything they put their minds to do," she urges.
Wendy invites any young girl interested in following in her footsteps to follow her on her various social media channels @shallot_wendy, where she is more than glad to engage with them.
She also tells us that she wouldn't change her chose career path for any other so you will likely be driven by Wendy on your next trip on SGR!
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