I don't regret being a truck driver, it's how I feed my children
Growing up, Jacinta Mwende dreamt of following in her daddy’s steps to become a truck driver. Although she didn’t know of any female drivers, that didn’t deter her from pursuing this childhood dream.
“When it was time for me to start working, I joined a trucks company as a driver. It soon became very clear to me why there weren’t many women in this profession. As soon as I started the job, I attracted all manner of insults. Some called me a prostitute, others a lost sheep and total failure. Do you know, I even lost a few friends who didn’t want to associate with the likes of me?”
Jacinta dismissed these as teething problems and focused on the job. She was doing long distance trips that often left her drained but happily so. The hostility in and outside work didn’t cause her to falter, everything was going pretty smoothly until life threw her a huge curveball.
“By this time, we were expecting our second child. I was about one month shy of delivering him when my ex-husband left. This was the hardest time of my life. I was forced to leave my one-month old baby in the care of someone else so I could go back to work and fend for my family.”
To add salt to the injury, Jacinta continued to face frustrations from disgruntled men who viewed her as a threat.
“One day, I was driving along Mombasa road near Voi town and I noticed this truck driver behind me who seemed to be following me. At this point, he decided to overtake and the lowered his speed from 70km/h to about 40km/h. I waited for him to speed up but realised he had no intention of doing so. As I began to overtake him, he began to push me off the road. By this time, I was on the wrong side so I decided to stop and let him go. The message was clear. Then there are other men who tell us to go back home to tend to our husbands and kids saying trucking carriers is not for ladies but for men.”
There was of course, the long painful hours on the road occasioned by the infamous perennial gridlock on Kenyan roads and other countries.
But the greatest difficulty which perhaps shaped her into the strong woman she is today was balancing her demanding work and tending to her young children single-handedly.
“The current difficulties are minimal. Sometimes however, people try to put me down by questioning my integrity. Faithfulness and trust is everything for life. when you are honest even your own kids will honour you and other things will follow. I don't care what other people told about me their outside what I care is about my family only. I also strive to work smart and prove that I deserve what I do.”
While most people react differently upon discovering that she earns her daily income by being a truck driver, her family, and especially her parents and her two children have been her greatest support system.
“My biggest cheer leader is my dad, Mzee Joseph Kyatha. He always encourages and assures me that he is so proud of me because I am strong, focused and above all, I do not give up.”
“When he learnt that I have started working as a trucker, he shook my hands happily and told me to keep it up! He encourages me a lot in my career. He always calls me 'dereva mwezangu' and the feeling is incredible. He is the main reason I am still on road till now.”
“My kids have grown up knowing that I do this to earn daily bread and so it is not a big surprise to them about what I do.”
Like any other affectionate mother, Mwende wishes nothing but the very best for her children even as she pushes the limits each day to ensure they are well provided for.
That said, she would not want them to end up as truck drivers. Not because she despises her profession, but because she would want them to aim higher and achieve great milestones.
“I have many dreams for my kids like giving them better education. I like to share with my children real life lessons.
“My greatest fear is that my children should end up just like me. I want the very best life has to offer for my children. This does not mean I dislike what I do. I just want the best life possible for them.”
Jacinta is an employee of OML Africa Logistics. She has fond memories of her trucking voyages which has seen her globe trot.
For eight years, the mother of two has traversed various counties across Kenya and several nations in the East African Continent, ferrying cargoes such as bagged cement and crude oil.
“My most memorable moments were ferrying crude oil. The transportation was unique and it was my first task in Kenya. Some of the countries which I have so far delivered cargo include Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya at large.
“My mother has been a huge anchor in my life especially by helping me sail through motherhood by looking after my daughter now aged 12 and my son who is now two years old, while at the same time pursuing my demanding career.
“She is very proud of what I do and the fact that I was taught how to drive a big machine by my father. My children are raised by a nanny under my mother's supervision,”
“I always make calls throughout the day, like I wake them up every morning to check on them midday and before they sleep. I spend a lot of money on phone conversations with them.”
Despite the passion she has for her job, that has not stopped her from dreaming on and envisaging the colourful future she would like for herself and her young family.
“I love my job but as you know we all look for greener pastures. If I could get a job in USA for instance, it would uplift my living standards.”
Apart from being a truck driver, Jacinta is also an astute, assiduous business lady whose ventures help to supplement her salary as a truck driver.
Having graduated in 2007 with a Sales and Marketing Diploma from Hi-Tec Institute of Professional Mombasa, the mother of two has invested in an M-Pesa Shop, Electrical and Mobile Accessories Shop as well as a Wines and Spirits Shop in Mombasa and Kibwezi.
With a demanding job and businesses to operate, support from her mother and sister plays a very fundamental role in helping her balance her role as a mother, a trucker, a business operator and an employer at the same time.
“My sister helps me to operate the businesses. My daughter is in a primary boarding school while my two-year-old son stays with a house help under the supervision of my mother.”
From the lessons life has taught her, Jacinta encourages women and the youth to believe in themselves and to go an extra mile while at the same time debunking the myth on easy money.
“I can advise youth especially young women to believe in their capabilities. It is quite unfortunate that most people choose easy money from jobs that are not sustainable.”
To women who would like to join the trucking industry which is largely male dominated, Jacinta reiterates that self-respect is paramount.
“Actually, men are the most supportive. You will be treated the way you encourage. Women in this industry face challenges because they are struggle with being decisive and having a firm stand.
“Every woman should go beyond imagination and do what she can to build the nation.”