Shamiso Kumbirai, a young engineer, is making a huge impact increasing awareness of the plight of lack of sanitation in communities. “In Grade 10 I was exposed to civil engineering. I loved the feeling of being onsite, but became keenly aware of the need for females to join the civil engineering field,” says Kumbirai.
After graduating, she worked at Unilever but soon left to pursue a Masters in Philosophy and engage on the social aspect of her work. It was there that she was exposed to the water space. “I loved the dynamics between the technical and water sciences because there is a huge social component to the work we as engineers need to be doing in terms of the designs we make. They need to be suitable for the people we are serving.”
For the past 3 years, Kumbirai has been working as a consultant on projects in hydropower, mainly in East Africa, all while empowering women engineers from the grassroots level until they become qualified to become mentors, under the umbrella of WomEng.
Through Sani4Schools, in partnership with Global Changers, Kumbirai works on highlighting the plight of schools lacking adequate sanitation. “When I did my Masters research I worked in informal settlements and saw the dire state of sanitation — I had to change that reality.” She joined Global Shakers organisation and began working on a project at Pateng Secondary School, a no-fee learning institution in South Africa. Pateng uses a holistic approach to overall sanitation needs, including upgrading the infrastructure and addressing the menstrual challenges faced by female learners.
Being part of the Obama Foundation Leaders: Africa programme is something Kumbirai aspired to. “I knew I had to be part of the Obama Foundation community with whom I could cross-pollinate ideas and contacts. It will give me access to a network of peers in different countries doing a similar line of work. I see it as an opportunity to grow the reach for Sani4Schools,” says Kumbirai.
“I’m looking to build lasting relationships that can see the continent progress and also get a sense of how best to scale up an idea for greater impact,” says Kumbirai, who will soon be moving to Rwanda.