Hands-on skills: Recycling brake pads turns around Musanze woman’s fortunes

When she went for a six-month Technical and Vocation Education and Training (TVET) course, Catherine Umuhire set out to challenge the notion that mechanical engineering was a reserve for men only.
Umuhire explains to senior government officials how her brake bands work. 
(Regis Umurengezi)
Umuhire explains to senior government officials how her brake bands work. (Regis Umurengezi)

When she went for a six-month Technical and Vocation Education and Training (TVET) course, Catherine Umuhire set out to challenge the notion that mechanical engineering was a reserve for men only.

She wakes up early and goes to a garage in Muhoza Sector, Musanze District, where she spends most of her time making vehicle spare parts from discarded pieces of metal. For the past four years, she has been recycling brake pads.

She dropped out of school in S3.

“I liked mechanics from my childhood. I grew up hearing about the the job creation policy from different government officials. I thought of sewing and hairdressing and thought I couldjoin either of the careers. However, I preferred to opt for mechanics and enrolled for a six-month course,” she says.

Umuhire says that she only used her idea as her capital. “I had no money as I was still begging everything from my parents. All I had was the idea of producing brake pads,” she said.

“After demonstrating to my parents the practicability of my project, they gave me Rwf220,000 which I used to buy the equipment from Uganda”.

To kick off her project, Umuhire approached car owners in Musanze District to swap their brake bands, usually cheap ones from China, and let them decide which were better.

“Everyone who bought my brake pads liked them. The rationale behind that is the fact that mime are long-lasting and more affordable as one costs Rwf700 while the ones imported outside Rwanda cost Rwf2,500,” she says.

Umuhire has since managed to buy her own equipment worth Rwf2.5 million. She has also started a poultry project with 140 chickens.

“All in all I have assets worth over Rwf5 million.”

She buys used pads at Rwf450 and sells one brake pad at Rwf700. She says she manufactures 40 brake bands daily which earns her at least a Rwf28,000.

Umuhire employs four permanent staff – three girls and a boy aged between 18 and 22.

Umuhire’s employees are paid Rwf2000 each daily, prior to this, Umuhire makes sure she trains her employees and other girls how to create jobs, specifically in the mechanical fields, she told The New Times.

“Whenever I get free time I try to explain to girls and boys that they have to create jobs rather than beg for them. I specifically show them how they can learn my skills as I have no fear that they will take over my clients,” she says.

Ange Umurerwa said that she joined Umuhire after recognising that she was self-reliant thanks to her mechanical career.

“Umuhire is economically independent, she likes what she does,” said Umurerwa, 22.

Clients upbeat

Drivers and spare parts dealers who spoke to The New Times expressed that brake pads made by Umuhire are a hot cake.

“As a driver, I assure you that I cannot buy brake pads anywhere else except from Umuhire as they last longer than the ones we call original from abroad. Umuhire’s brake padscan work for a year while those ones which are made from abroad cannot last for six months,” said Kassim Nsoro, a taxi driver.

Joselyne Uwinema, a spare parts dealer operating in Musanze town, says that every day she receives many orders of customers who request brake pads made by Umuhire.

“Customers, especially motorists always come looking for brake bands made in Musanze by Umuhire,” she said.

Espérance Nyirasafari, the Minister for Gender and Family Promotion who last month visited Umuhire, said “She is proof that both boys and girls can acquire any kind of skills and undertake any kind of jobs regardless of gender.”

Nyirasafari pledged Umuhire her ministry’s support in order to further grow her project.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

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