The women of Nigeria are aiming for a different lifestyle — one that includes parts and labor. The Lady Mechanic Initiative is a growing project encouraging women to follow their dreams and learn a trade traditionally ruled by men. The project provides women with a stable income, respect in the community, and a solid support system.
Sandra Aguebor, the “First Lady Mechanic in Nigeria”, was born in Benin city, Edo state. Her dreams of becoming a mechanic started in childhood, which she believed came as a calling from God. After some initial trepidation from her parents, she began to pursue her dream at 14. After going through the traditional school system, she attended Auchi Polytechnic in Edo State, studying mechanical engineering. She also received specialized training at schools in Nigeria and Germany.
Aguebor’s first mechanic job was at Bendel Transport Service, in Benin City. She worked there for three years managing maintenance and repairs. Once Aguebor got her feet wet in the industry, she moved on to the Nigeria Railway Corporation of Lagos for another three years before ultimately deciding she was ready to be on her own. Starting her own garage was not easy: her first garage was a makeshift garage that was ultimately torn down by the land authority. After this, Aguebor set up a mobile garage in her own car until she was able to set up subsequent permanent garages.
Seeing the success of her career, Aguebor wanted to give women the opportunity to pursue their own dreams and founded the Lady Mechanic Initiative. Since 2004, the Lady Mechanic Initiative has trained hundreds of women.
With their signature blue overalls and bright red caps, and covered in grease, the mechanics-in-training are happy to have a solid career future ahead of them. Many of these women come from the margins of Nigerian society, including former sex workers and orphans. Since the start, over 700 women have undergone training, with over 150 graduating from the program going on to get stable jobs in local garages, companies and even starting their own garage business.
With funding from the MacArthur foundation, Lady Mechanic Initiative has launched after school programs to support young girls interested in mechanics and engineering. Through this initiative they hope to reach 1000 girls. The organization has also made inroads culturally by working with women in the predominantly Muslim northern region of Nigeria
Living in a country where a steady income is hard to come by for many women, some mechanics say that Sandra Aguebor saved their lives. With the ability to learn a core profession, work with reputable companies, or even start their own business, many women are building the confidence, dignity and stability they need to live a happy and productive life. With plans to expand the project within the country and the region, The Lady Mechanic Initiative has high hopes to continue providing the right support and training women need to live the life they choose.