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Women expending themselves to renovate and construct their houses of worship

March 20, 2024

The fear of electricity, especially if one has ever suffered the terrifying shock of the current, has forced many men and women to have minimal interaction with anything electrical.

Not so for Naomi Wanjiku, 28, who lives in Donholm, Nairobi. She’s been eking out a living by working as an electrician for a company that manufactures switches and sockets.

She undertook a course in electrical engineering at Thika Technical Training Institute. She earned a diploma.

While little boys love playing with toy vehicles or aircrafts, little girls may prefer dolls and kitchen chores mimicry. Wanjiku defied the odds. “When I was young, I enjoyed working with my hands,” she says. “Most of the time I would help my dad to fix electricity and plumbing.”

Wanjiku drills through ceiling rails to be used in fixing ceiling boards.

She loved following her dad as he worked. As a result, she grew up relishing any work she could perform with her hands.

She carefully analyzed her career choices before settling for a course. She discerned that a skills-based career would most likely provide her with her daily needs. Besides, she desired to delve into some volunteer work.

“I work secularly from Monday to Friday but on Saturdays and public holidays, I volunteer for Kingdom Hall construction projects,” she says.

“I’m available to assist in projects near me,” she says. For five months, she’s been at the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Inner Core, Umoja. The building has been undergoing major renovation.

A supervisor at the site, Robert Chenje, who is a member of the Local Design Construction group says, “The renovation works include stripping off the roof and replacing it, fitting the ceiling, tiling the floor, construction of a new washroom block and landscaping among others.”

Men and women of diverse ages at the site have been sweating it out excavating, carting soils to mounds, and performing many more jobs reminiscent of a construction site. The women don’t grumble.

More often than not, there are on average about five more women turning up than men. All cooperate in working together harmoniously. The women nurture a mini regional flavour.

At least Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo are represented.

The spokesman of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Kenya, Victor Karoki, places the number of such projects in the country going on at any time at 20. They range from minor to major renovations. It could also be new constructions.

Karoki explains that each Kingdom Hall has a program and schedule of maintenance. Each hall is evaluated every two or three years to determine whether the building is in good condition. “After that, a recommendation is given to improve the condition of the building to either make general repairs or major renovations,” he says.

“In Kingdom Hall construction projects, we’re always ready to do any job we are assigned,” Wanjiku says. “I am fully engaged in electrical work in Kingdom Halls. This includes wiring and installation of any electrical appliances.”

Wanjiku and one of her female colleagues, listen to a supervisor, Robert Chenje, as he handles a machine that detects edges for installing ceiling rails.

As the world keeps moving towards developing and retaining a multiskilled workforce, Wanjiku is not lagging. What she couldn’t learn formally in college, she’s learning on the job. Fellow volunteers have been instilling in her more practical expertise. “I have been trained in other skills like masonry, painting, tiling, and other construction jobs.”

Regarding the volunteer sites where she works, she says, “This is different from other secular construction projects where women may be looked down upon.” But here, “Even when you are not experienced in some work, you are assisted and trained on how to handle tasks.”

Her other forte is computer-aided design. It entails drawing plans of Kingdom Halls. Before she embarks on a project, planning is key. “If it’s a new project, we first consider how many people will be using the building.”

Working in a safe environment fosters progress. She reads and adheres to safety instructions to avoid injuries to herself and others.

Another supervisor at the site is Daniel Nyakaana. “We decided to set daily and weekly targets to move faster.” The goals that the crew agreed on, were vital especially when rains threatened to disrupt advancement.

The weeks in March leading to March 24 have been momentous for Jehovah’s Witnesses. They have been sharing in a global campaign to invite their neighbours to join them in commemorating the death of Jesus Christ.
“The event will be held at local Kingdom Halls on Sunday, March 24 2024 at sundown,” says Karoki. For the Kingdom Hall in Umoja, “There’s the desire to prepare it to be fit and proper for this important occasion.”

Wanjiku is hoping that the renovations that she’s been part of will herald a renewed phase of the building’s use.
“I’m being used in the best way possible,” she says.

By William Inganga

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