In Liberia, there is an entrenched stereotype that women are afraid of taking a certain career path, but the individual stories of some women are changing this mediaeval perception. Their stories encapsulate the extent a woman can go to break the glass ceiling and erode sexism in a patriarchal society like Liberia.
The story of four women working for Liberia’s first industrial gold mining company in Grand Cape Mount County – southwest Liberia, shows the daring competence of women who can explore any professional path.
Bea Mountain Mining Company, which runs the gold mines, seems to have covered significant number of pages in the storybook of these four women. The Turkish firm took over the mines back in 2013, signed a Mineral Development Agreement (MDA) with the government of Liberia.
In the past seven years, the company has become a cradle for human resource development for many young professional Liberians. In addition to providing jobs, it is putting extraordinary fate in young employees including women.
The stories of mining Geologist Ruth M. Toe, heavy duty driving trainer Bonnue G. Kollie, mine planning expert Cela K. Kaine, mining engineer Fatumata Binta Barrie and Handful Kaiuway, heavy duty driver, epitomize courage and determination.
The four come from diverse background with divergence of career path but they are integral part of Liberia’s first industrial mining company located in Grand Cape Mount County.
With different angles, their stories do not only show the progress the mining company is making by grooming more national mining experts, but that women have the tenacity to take on what is perceived as manly careers.
Ruth M. Toe: The Junior Mine Geologist with Massive Ambition
Growing up as a disadvantaged child in Grand Bassa County, Ruth was brought up by a single parent. She helped her mother sell sacs of water in the streets of Buchanan to pay her school fees. After graduating from secondary school, she was awarded a scholarship to study mining engineering in Morocco.
In Casablanca, Ruth faced some more challenges: in the first semester, she passed just one out of eight courses. But the determination in her was unwavering. She would later graduate and obtained another scholarship to obtain a master’s degree, but that was after she returned home and worked briefly as an intern with Bea Mountain in 2014. Although she left an impression on her supervisor, Ruth did not want a job at the time – her eyes were on a bigger prize: a master’s degree.
When she completed her graduate degree, she returned home, worked briefly as a teaching assistant at the University of Liberia and later opted to work in the private sector despite several opportunities offered her in the public sector.
“I wanted to work as a practical geologist before entering into government,” said the 30-year-old. “To go into government, you should know what experience you will offer — but coming just from school and your only experience is teaching at the university for less than a year was not enough, so I thought it wise to build up my professional career by entering the private sector.”
Over the past two years, Ruth reckons that working in the mines is very challenging, but she is very gritty.
“If you are excited about your job and motivated, it becomes easier for you,” she says. “So, I set my goals, I don’t look at myself like being the only woman working among the men of I have to compete with the men. I only see myself like this is my job, this what I choose to do as a professional person, and I should it at my best”.
Ruth says stereotypes against women can be extinguished by women, whose determination will sail them to achievement.
“Don’t go for something because somebody says so,” she asserts. “Do it because you feel that you like it; you can do it and you can do it beyond all odds and imagination.
“From the very day I choose to do geology, I was discouraged by some people”, she said, recalling her rough beginning. That gloomy start helped cultivate a certain confidence she embodies.
“If you ever see a Liberian woman who opts to do engineering, that means she means it and if she comes out successful, she knows it, so I will encourage the company to employ more women because women are delicate and mindful and are less reckless.
“I don’t think I was given the job because I’m a woman, but because of what I have accomplished and what I can do based on my performance during the internship. Ever since I took on this job, I feel like I’m living my dreams. This is where I want to be – I want to be a Geologist, and nothing should stop me.’
Commenting on Bea Mountain’s growing confidence in home-grown experts, the Junior Mining Geologistsaid: “The company wants to groom young people and I know the company will continue giving space to women to explore opportunities”.
And Ruth seems to be growing more ambitious by the day. She’s keen about furthering her career as she plans to obtain a doctorate in Geology.
“With the passion that I have, I see myself achieving more and even become an expats, to give hope to young Liberian woman that they too can become who I am today,” she concluded.
Bonnue G. Kollie: A Teacher of Heavy-Duty Drivers
Bonnue’s story may inspire even a man. Starting as a volunteer mechanic for Bea Mountain in 2014, the 32-year-old was destined to become famous at the mining company.
After graduating from the Monrovia Vocation Training Institute in 2008 and the Booker Washington Institute’s accelerated program in 2010, she sought greener pasture away from Monrovia. Her work as a mechanic was not so rewarding but she patiently waited a big chance.
In November 2014, when the company brought in new trucks, they opted to hire only female drivers. That was Bonnue’s long awaited opportunity.
“Some of the females saw the trucks, they were afraid to attempt driving it,” she remembered. “But I took advantage of that job opportunity and started driving trucks after I was trained.”
Several months later, her supervisor and trainer was about to quiet, and so Bonnue was tipped as the successor. Thankfully, she said, the company wanted a female trainer with skill diversity: a mechanic with driving and computer skills. And Bonnue was the right pick.
Six months later, she was promoted as the trainer. Her first class of 16 people saw 12 turning out successful. She holds that “being polite and sensitive” to divergence of people is important, adding that it is a quality of a woman, who understands how to manage the competing demands of her children, must have.
“Some people get afraid based on the way you’ll talk to them, others learn by seeing action and others learn by reading books and manuals,” she said of her trainees. “So, you have to know the kind of students you are working with and then when you are teaching them, you’ll give them lesson based on how you understand them.”
So far, Bonnue has graduated three classes of over 300 persons, a feat that recently earned her a promotion as a supervisor. She insists that it is her “mind set and urge to share knowledge” hat have propelled her to the current position.
“I want to keep helping young people by training them to have technical skill, so that they learn how to operate heavy duty machines and be professional people for our country,” she said.
Cela K. Kaine: Confident in Tough Terrain
When Cela was hired by a construction company hired by Bea Mountain in 2014 to build homes for project-affected communities, she had no knowledge of mapping mining sites. Now, she works with the mining planning department of the company – helping engineers and geologist to design work plans.
She started working with the mining company in 2016 after recommendation from her previous supervisor. She knew she was venturing into a tough terrain, but she never despairs.
“When you are entering the industrial area there’s always a concern that it is a tough career, so you will wonder if you can make it through,” she said.
“These are the questions that usually come to mind but once you entered with the mindset that yes indeed what I’m seeing the men doing, I can actually do it and you keep focused then definitely, you will do it. This is what carried most females that you see working in the mines.”
She upholds the principle that “having the mind set can lead you to achieving your goal as a woman” even in the mining sector
As a mine planning expert whose years of experience was garner from on-the-job training by experts working with the company, Cela hails the company for being innovative with its employees’ career development strategy.
“Bea Mountain has given lot of female opportunities, most especially when it comes to training,” she said. “There are lot of females who came to this company without a career and now they have been set on a career path, something they can rely upon and work at other mining companies in the future.”
Looking ahead, Cela sees a bright future at the company and thinks she is opting to grow into an asset for the company.
“Years later, I want to excel at different level as I help train others here as well. From where I am, I see that the company is giving us chance to grow as women who are determine to become professionals.”
From Masonry to Driving Machines: Handful Kaiuway Loves Driving Trucks
Handful, 37, arrived in Kenjor town, Grand Cape Mount County back in 2013 in such of job. The only work available was a masonry and because she was already a good workwoman, she was hired. Little did she know that was the beginning of a new career she has always desired.
At that time, the company was construction new homes for the relocation of residents of project-affected town. She was on the team that built over 325 units, earning her an award from Liberia’s former president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf for her outstanding performance.
When the celebrations were over, she heard the mining company was offering training for female drivers; so, Handful set on a new career path.
“We were doing three months training, but the period didn’t end and then the company congratulated me and employed me as a driver,” she recalls.
In the months that followed she was outstanding. She was driving all sort of heavy mining equipment and was given several accolades for moving sophisticated trucks.
Being a woman and driving heavy duty truck has nothing on Handful, who says “the job as a best suited career for any woman”.
“It was my dream to become a heavy-duty truck driver before being trained by this company,” she said. “The company has been helping me to do what I want to do and being a woman makes me proud of myself”.
Fatumata Binta Barrie: The Intern-cum-Expert
Barrie worked with the Ministry of Mines and Energy for two years before she was seconded to the mining company, where she worked for two years as an intern. That was after she had graduated from the University of Liberia in 2016.
“Basically, when I came, I worked and tried to do my best and I’m sure that whoever I worked with at the time saw a good reason for employing me based on my own work and commitment,” she said of her preferment by the company.
Although the task at hand is challenging, she is commitment to excellence, and says working with the company is “worth the challenge”.
“We all know that mining is a challenging area but like I’ve always told my fellow women that although it is challenging for men, I’ll see no reason why women can’t do it,” she said. “It is a promising field to be in, as a lady do your best – do not compromise much being a female”.
With growing prospect of underground mining in Liberia, Fatumata is keen about being one of those to lead the next generation of miners. But she is encouraging other women to venture into her profession.
She said: “It is a challenging filed and people believe that it is only for man but as women, we can make the difference. There’s nothing much that we can’t do especially when it comes to extracting of your resources that men are doing and you a woman, you don’t even know what is going on – but with mining, you know exactly what is going on”.