Driving change behind the wheel
Milliam Murigi @millymur1
On a typical day, Mwende Kyatha wakes up around 4am to prepare for work. By 6am she hits the road. She drives a 22 tires man truck for as many as 13 hours a day with breaks in between.
Kyatha who works for OML Africa Logistics as a truck driver is one of the few Kenyan women who have succeeded in this male-dominated field.
Traditionally, truck driving was filled by men as the models used to be heavy and pretty tough.
But all thanks to modern technology and innovations such as power steering and temperature control, truck driving has become easier and faster.
In fact, you will find this interesting to know that several trucking companies have started recruiting women as they drive less aggressively and more cautiously.
“My breakfast break is between 8am to 9am, my lunch at 1pm for an hour. After lunch, I continue driving until 7 pm according to the company’s working hours’ regulation,” she says of her busy schedule.
Being raised by a trucking father, Kyatha always desired to be a successful female truck driver.
“My father used to be a truck driver and that is where my passion for trucks was born.
Immediately after Form Four in 2005, I went for driving classes at Unik Driving School.
Though at first, I ventured into business in 2018, the urge of trucking made me join this occupation,” she adds.
“The job opportunity came at the right time. Then, I was one month post-delivery and I couldn’t say ‘no’.
I was jobless and we had also parted ways with my husband. With bills to pay, I embraced my new job because I wanted financial stability.
I was forced to put my baby on formula feed,” says the 30-year-old mother of two.
According to Kyatha, it was not easy to secure a job as a woman, but she never gave up.
She appreciates the fact that her employer appreciates having women drivers.
Though it has been well with her, she says that she would never forget the intensive training process where various trainers from outside the country would come to train them on many aspects of the job such as safety on the road, lashing cargo, defensive driving, and carrying dangerous goods amongst others, before she started her job.
Though trucking presents a lot of challenges such as long working hours, she enjoys the adventures of the road and the freedom to work independently.
Apart from that, the respect she gets from the society because of her occupation keeps her going.
Defying the norm
“The steering wheel has no clue what gender holds it. Defying the norm and proving society wrong is what motivates me even more.
I would like to tell women out there that today, truck driving industry possesses a lot of opportunities for women.
So, if you have the passion to succeed, just give it a try,” says the mother of two.
Her family is based in Makueni, and so her truck often serves as her second home. Her work entails transporting the company assigned cargo to various destinations such as Uganda, Rwanda, and other neighbouring countries.
The demanding hours and distance from her home mean she doesn’t often see her family often.
She’s usually on the road for about three weeks, then takes a one-week-break to spend with her family.
“My children stay with my mother. I also have a house manager who helps her. During school holidays, when I get a break, I bring them with me to Mombasa where I live.
When they are in school, I travel home in Makueni to be with them,” Kyatha adds.
While different companies pay differently, for example based on miles travelled, type of trailer and freight, the best thing is that women and men are paid equally.
However, despite all this, she says that many female drivers are critisised by their male peers.
“Many male drivers think that women are there to take their share. Women drivers are always harassed by their male counterparts so often and they are not accorded the respect they deserve, something that needs to change,” she notes.
And for safety at night, she says that the company provides hotel allowances unlike before when long-distance drivers were forced to spend their nights mostly in parking lots or trucking rest stops, which used not to be the safest environments for women drivers.
“I have found so much career success in the trucking industry. The industry has made me mature as well.
I have gained enough strength and confidence, and now I have more respect for truckers everywhere,” she says in conclusion.