Dora Mhango Chilangiza is fearlessly smashing gender-based stereotypes as she works on the front line of road construction sites.
Unapologetic and proud of her job, the excavator operator feels men and women should be given equal opportunities and be allowed to dream as far and wide as their capabilities can take them.
It was this mentality that got her living her best life as ‘one of the men’ on different construction sites.
Chilangiza was running small businesses until 2008, when she shifted to the more technical work. Three years ago, she has worked as an excavator operator for Einstein Construction Company for the past three years.
Excavator operators, also known as excavators, utilise heavy machinery on a variety of construction projects, including residential, commercial, and industrial building and infrastructure projects like roads.
An excavator’s main role is to operate heavy machinery (including backhoes, bulldozers, rollers and graders) in order to dig, transfer and load soil, rock, debris and rubble from one place to another as they prepare a site for construction. The excavator ensures safe and reliable operation of their machinery by following safety protocols and helping to maintain equipment.
Currently, Chilangiza is working on the upgrading of the intersection of the Kapeni and Mahatma Gandhi roads at the Mount Pleasant T-junction in Blantyre by Einstein Construction.
She has previously been a part of the team that was constructing the Chigumula-Mpemba-Chileka Bypass Road by Tahit Networks.
With a bright smile on her face, Chilangiza says she has always wanted to be different and growing up, her dream was to become a truck driver, another male-dominated field.
She explains: “I have always kept technical work close to my heart and I did not aspire to be part of the ‘big jobs’ that most people dream of. I believe everyone has something to offer in life in all levels of occupation.”
Growing up, she says life was not easy but her resolve to become a financially independent woman made her persistently chase her dream.
“I started my secondary school at Matindi Private but later moved to Lizulu Community Day Secondary School [CDSS] where I wrote my Malawi School Certificate of Education [MSCE] in 2002.
After Form Four, she was not able to go further with her education due to financial constraints.
The passing on of her two elder brothers who were bread winners for the family made her the oldest child in a family of four, thereby forcing her to take over responsibility of providing for the family.
“But I did not let this get to me. I engaged in various small businesses such as selling food items and household essentials to earn a living and save some money to finance my tertiary education,” she recounts.
In 2008, Chilangiza enrolled for a three-month technical course with UniTrust,
However, the excavator says even her career path was not all smooth.
“At times I would doubt if I was good enough for the career that I wanted. I would also worry about how my family and the public would view me,” says Chilangiza .
However, she ignored all the comments and made lemonade out of the lemons that were thrown at her. She soon began to receive respect from all corners and this motivated her to go further.
“I had to gather courage and get accustomed to my work. Having others admire my work boosted my confidence and I have not looked back since,” she says.
Chilangiza says she loves her work,not only because it puts food on the table, but also because she has defied the odds to fulfil her dream of doing such a highly-technical job that also makes her standing.
“I wish everyone would be accommodative by granting others equal opportunities without stereotyping them because of their gender,” she says.
Citing Psalms 23 which says ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want’, as her inspirational verse, the proud Presbyterian Women’s Guild member says the verse strengthens her and keeps her going whenever she faces hurdles.
The enthusiastic and multidimensional lady also has a passion for entrepreneurship and when she is not getting her hands dirty on dusty construction sites, she explores different business opportunities.
She still runs small businesses, such as selling banana fritters, chips and running a kiosk right at her residence at Kanjedza Police in Blantyre.
Says Chilangiza: “I take hustling very seriously and in our household, my husband and I try to thrive to give the best that we can to our four children. One of the things that led me to continue working on extra sources of income is the belief that money or poverty does not discriminate based on one being male or female. I also want to motivate my two daughters to strive for independence and not just expect the men in their lives to provide for them.
“I am very commited to what I do and I am glad that from what we make, we are living happily,” she says.
Born on November 15 1981 in Ngosi village, Traditional Authority Kyungu in Karonga, Chilangiza has lived most of her life in Blantyre. In 1990, her family moved back to Karonga after her father’s contract as a plumber at Blantyre Water Board expired. But they returned to Blantyre in 1992.
She advises girls to have confidence and not give up when things do not go as planned.
“If you get discouraged, you will only delay your progress. It is also good to socialise. Having worked in a male dominated field for so long, I have learnt the power of team work, the men I work with have helped a lot in building my career, ” she attests.
Chilangiza hopes her life inspires girls who may be facing various life challenges to stay focused and have self-discipline, particularly if they venture into such a male-dominated field as she has.
She says: “I spend most of the time working with men in construction sites. I am friendly to them but that does not mean I tolerate wrong behaviors,” she says.