A young Zimbabwean woman has broken into male-dominated trades of trucking and piloting as she sets out to prove that there are no limits to what women can achieve with enough support.
Thirty-two year-old Rutendo Barna is the first born in a family of two girls. She attended Brodes and Livingstone House primary as well as Girls High and Gateway schools in Harare.
Barna, who is slightly built, got her truck driver’s licence at the age of 23 with encouragement from her father who owns a trucking company.
She started driving haulage trucks across the country’s borders at the age of 25. Barna says initially she wanted to be a doctor and trucking was far from her goals.
“I got my inspiration from my cousin who drives trains in England. When I came back from holiday in England I decided to team up with my dad who runs a trucking company. I started on the 30-tonne trucks because I enjoy machines.”
Truck driving in Zimbabwe has challenges such as long hours and poor ablution facilities at the borders, high accident rates due to driver fatigue, hijackings and lack of phone networks in places along the routes that can be dangerous in case of break-downs or other emergencies.
Barna says she also faced problems with male truck drivers on her many journeys into Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique.
“Of the nasty comments; some people thought that I was the drivers’ girl-friends. Male truck drivers have been known to carry girlfriends and do all sorts of stupid things on the road. But once they found out that I am actually a driver you see them start changing. They end up respecting you as a woman. It’s been a really great feeling.”
In 2009, Barna used the money she earned from trucking to enroll for private lessons at the Guthrie Aviation School in Mount Hampden just outside Harare as she pursued her dream to earn a commercial pilot licence.
She believes by following her heart and taking on the so-called male trades, she's positively influencing young women like her not to feel intimidated.
“I am sending a good impression that in a male-dominated world, people see flying and truck driving a male-dominated industry. I would like to believe that girls are changing the mind-set and believe that females can do whatever they put their mind to.”
Her sentiments are shared by her father, Charles Barna, a qualified diesel plant mechanic.
“The body language is that everybody gets surprised that girls have to do such jobs like moving a 30-tonne, 40-tonne truck; girls have to fly and so on but really the trend is that in today’s world a girl can achieve what a boy can achieve.”
Her sister, Ruvimbo, is a medical doctor. She says her sister has never lost focus from her early days as a haulage truck driver.
“She took to the road in trucks and that totally shocked everyone and amazed me. It’s something that I couldn’t do personally to go for days on the road by herself or with a driver assisting her. It’s truly inspiring. And the day she decided to take to the air I saw her brighten up, that’s what she lives for. My sister is a true pilot at heart and she does it very well,” says Ruvimbo.
Barna’s dream is to get a commercial pilot licence. Guthrie Aviation School is charging $40,000 for the course. Her father’s trucking business has fallen on hard times because companies that used to give them haulage contracts have shut down.
Her father says even the private pilot training course was very expensive.
“It’s $275 to $300 per hour multiplied by close to 100 hours. It’s a lot of money. We did put that and she got a license, PPL," said Charles Barna. "The idea is not to fly private, she has to fly for a commercial. We are now at the stage where she has to go commercial and my company has gone a bit low.”
She says a commercial pilot certificate will help her acquire a certified flight instructor licence to teach others how to fly and to earn a living flying airplanes.
However, this dream is facing a setback due to lack of funds.
“Is there someone out there who can help me get a scholarship of getting a place at an aviation school? If not I would like sponsors who can sponsor me so that I can finish my commercial pilot licence.”
Barna says she has already started going around giving talks at youth centres and at church about how she confronted male-dominated areas in an attempt to motivate young girls.