Lynn Rachel Mutethya, who is a registered graduate civil engineer with Institution of Engineers of Kenya (IEK), has overcome the odds of gender by taking charge in the supervision of the construction of a dam located in Gatundu South Constituency.
Having pursued her Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology between 2008 and 2012, she always had a passion and interest in maths and science subjects while in school. She currently works as an Assistant Engineer in the water and sanitation department at Norken International Limited. Through this company she has gained the opportunity to learn and grow through on-the-job training and formal training.Apart from supervising Theta Dam, she has participated in the supervision of the construction of the raw water gravity main, which she refers as being a great achievement so far.
Theta Dam being one of Kenya’s Vision 2030 projects is located inside Kinale Forest and has been constructed across Theta River in Gatundu South Constituency. The project entails construction of a 17m high compacted earth fill dam, construction of a reinforced concrete spillway and laying of a 3.5km long 500mm diameter steel pipeline up to the Mundoro Forest edge.
Theta Dam is a project developed and funded by the government of Kenya through the Ministry of Water and Irrigation in order to provide support to the client, Athi Water Services Board (AWSB) in its Infrastructure Services Projects (as envisaged in the Water Act). The dam will offer access to piped water storage capacity of 400,000 cubic meters for use by local residents in Gatundu South. The option of using the dam for irrigation purposes is also being explored.
Athi Water Services Board awarded the construction contract to Lee Construction Limited in June 2011 after a tender process. The Contract for consultancy services for supervision and coordination of construction works for the dam was awarded to NorKen International Limited.
The dam once completed will serve a population of about 50,000 people in Mundoro, Ndundu, Gachika, Kiamuoria, Nembu, Gathugu, Kigumo, Kibichoi and possibly parts of lower Nyanduma in Githunguri.
“While constructing the dam to where it is now, I experienced a hard time in laying out foundation for the dam especially grouting activities, concrete works for the diversion culvert, morning glory spillway, construction of earthworks, instrumentation, stilling basin and drainage works. Also, during the first days in a field that is dominated by the male engineers it was hard to keep up with my male counterparts who could easily withstand standing for long hours in the sun, walk great distances in tough terrain and jump off high points with ease. But it got easier with time and I got used to the tough conditions. I have to say I’m lucky. The engineers I work with are always accommodative and supportive which makes me forget I’m the only woman around,’ says Ms. Mutethya.
Another challenge she experienced was in giving instructions to male construction workers. Most were not easily receptive to the idea of a woman telling them what to do and how to do it. By allowing them to express their opinions and appreciating their work, she has been able to supervise works with more ease.
She says that engineering related industries and Infrastructure development also face a great challenge when it comes to funding large projects. Many projects fail to kick off due to inadequate funds. Some start and stall due to the same. Current government budgets for infrastructure improvement alone greatly fall short of estimated needs. Securing the necessary funds requires both popular and political support. Engineers also face formidable political obstacles.
“In many instances groups entrenched in the political system benefit from old connections in power thus blocking new enterprises. Public understanding of engineering and its underlying science will be important to enhance successful adoption of new technologies. Corruption and improper project management are other challenges engineers face,” the young engineer asserts.
“Contractor challenges in meeting deadlines because of inclement weather, sourcing of embankment materials 5 km away outside the forest, poor resource mobilization during dry seasons and getting approvals from Kenya Forest Service (KFS) to start the project,” she adds.
With hindsight she adds, “During construction works or building, we experience unauthorized contractors taking charge of buildings which bring health, economical and engineering hazards to users. For this reason several factors should thus be considered in structural design, failure to which a structure/building is likely to collapse posing a great threat to human life. The loss of property has a negative impact on the economy since infrastructure is a great pillar to economical strength.”
To ensure high quality engineering works, engineering bodies such as the Engineers Board of Kenya (EBK) and IEK have come up to ensure that practising engineers obtain their education from recognized and authentic academic institutions. These bodies also ascertain the quality of engineering courses being offered in academic institutions and offer membership to qualified engineers. It should be mandatory that all practicing engineers and contractors be members of such bodies. Strict laws should be enacted and enforced to deter unauthorized contractors.
While taking me through the site she adds, “I hope that engineers in Kenya will continue to provide basic infrastructure, including roads, schools, water, sanitation, irrigation, health care, energy and telecommunications. In addition, the Government should support and fund efforts to establish and nurture academies of engineering and technological sciences. Engineering projects should also be supported.”
With love for fashion and keenness to spending time with her family, she advises young people particularly ladies to take up engineering as a career. Engineering she says has great opportunities and provides for a marvellous way of giving back to society.