By: Awa Conteh
In a world where women have historically been under-represented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, Kodou is a beacon of inspiration. Her journey from humble beginnings to becoming a telecommunications guru and a catalyst for change in her community is extraordinary.
In this week’s Women in STEM column, we’ll explore the passions, achievements, challenges, and triumphs that have shaped Kodou into the formidable force she is today. Prepare to be blown away by her unyielding commitment to empowering women and girls in STEM fields across Gambia.
Kodou Jeng-Gaye hails from Brikama, a town in the western part of Gambia, and grew up in Lamin, where she had a modest upbringing like many kids. She completed her Junior and Senior Secondary school education at St. Peters Junior and Senior Secondary School. Her journey in the world of technology began upon completing secondary education when she enrolled at the Gambia Telecommunications and Multimedia Institute, where she pursued a certificate and diploma program in Telecommunications and Electronic Engineering.
In 2002, Kodou joined Gamtel as a Fibre Optic Transmission Technician, but her aspirations continued. With support from Gamtel, Mrs. Jeng-Gaye pursued a Bachelor’s in Telecommunications Engineering at Ghana Technology University College, where her hard work and tenacity paid off as she graduated with honors, earning a degree that would become the cornerstone of her future achievements. In her story, we find inspiration, a reminder that dreams can be realized with unwavering dedication and support.
STEM has held a special place in Kodou’s heart from an early age. In her Senior Secondary years, subjects like Physics, Further Maths, and Applied Electricity piqued her curiosity, setting her on a path she was destined for. Her inspiration didn’t come out of the blue; her elder brother, who also worked as an engineer at Gamtel, played a significant role in her journey. She vividly remembers poring over his engineering books, a magical window into the engineering world that further ignited her passion for the field.
In the world of STEM, the path to gender diversity can be a steep climb. As Mrs Jeng-Gaye climbed the career ladder from Technician to her present role as Senior Manager, a glaring truth became evident. There were very few women in her field. She found herself as the sole woman in her section. This gender imbalance wasn’t unique to her experience; it was a challenge that had long shadowed STEM, particularly in engineering.
Kodou recognized that some engineering tasks, like splicing optical fiber cables, were better suited to women, requiring meticulous care and attention to detail—qualities often abundant in women. She knew it was time to rewrite the narrative and be the change she wanted to see. This realization inspired her to create WiSTEM Gambia. She saw an opportunity to make a real difference through advocacy, role modeling, and mentorship. She knew that the number of women in these fields was limited in Gambia, and she saw a chance to reach out to talented Gambian women working abroad. Her mission was clear – to show her fellow women that it was possible but vital to study and work in STEM fields, as the development of their beloved nation depended on it.
“There are engineering jobs that it is better to have done by women, like splicing the optical fiber cable. This activity requires you to be extra careful, and these attributes are found in women. I know someone has changed the narrative, and I wanted to be the one to create that change”, she told TAT.
Kodou continued: “Imagine a group of students using the internet to research and develop waste management software, a major problem affecting society. This prepares them for the future. Apart from the above, the students need to know that STEM is the future for development and their contribution can help national development.”
To thrive in the ever-evolving niche of Telecoms Engineering, continuous learning is the key, and for Kodou, this meant embarking on a journey of enlightening training experiences. She jetted off to France, where Alcatel became her guiding star. The first stop was a deep dive into Fibre Optic Equipment Training, and then, she ventured into Network Management Systems. She also attended another training in the UK on the Installation of Communication Equipment with the United Kingdom Telecoms Academy. In 2012, Kodou’s quest for self-development led her to India for training on IP Networks, Advanced Routing Technologies, and VOIP(Voice over IP). From there, she set her sights on China, delving into training on 3G wireless with Huawei Technologies. The journey didn’t stop with technology alone; she explored Project Management, a skill that now seamlessly weaves into her daily responsibilities.
The path of an Engineer juggling the roles of mother and wife is no easy feat. Kodou’s journey was challenging, but her unwavering determination and her family’s steadfast support, particularly her husband, carried her through the most difficult times.
In 2017, she embarked on a 28-month journey to Ghana, and her husband was her rock, providing the support she needed. The road to success is marked by relentless effort, sometimes leading to remote provinces where finding a place to rest becomes challenging. Yet, these very challenges become the driving force. In a male-dominated world, she faced skepticism from her colleagues. Still, her secret weapon was her unyielding commitment to staying at the top of her game.
Kodou is on a mission to empower the future of STEM in The Gambia, and her journey doesn’t stop with WiSTEM. She’s taken on the role of mentor to a diverse group of girls, often making her wish she had similar guidance when she was in their shoes. Leveraging the power of social media, she spotlights their achievements, igniting inspiration and motivating the younger generation to reach for the stars. Beyond her work with WiSTEM, she’s been invited to share her journey on various platforms, aiming to inspire and uplift the youth. And as if that wasn’t enough, more exciting projects are brewing on the horizon, all with one goal: empowering Gambian women in STEM. In a nutshell, the best is yet to come in this incredible journey.
“I am mentoring many girls who approached me after founding WiSTEM. These girls are in different levels, some in university and the rest in senior secondary. Helping these young girls through their career path has been the most fulfilling thing I have ever engaged in. I sometimes say to myself, I wish I had the opportunity these girls had when I was in Junior school”, she said.
Kodou’s advocacy for Women in STEM is grounded in the belief that greater female participation is essential. She’s acutely aware of the current gender gap in STEM.
She recognizes the transformative potential that STEM holds for a nation’s development. As a developing country, Gambia could witness a monumental shift in its narrative and a significant economic boost with increased women’s engagement in STEM. She’s not content with benefiting from her career. Still, she is determined to lead the way, ensuring that more women follow in her footsteps, leaving behind a legacy of progress and inclusion in STEM.
Through Mrs Jeng-Gaye’s initiatives with WiSTEM and her personal story, she’s not only breaking barriers but building bridges for countless women to join the world of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Kodou’s journey exemplifies the transformative power of passion, education, and the unyielding belief that change is possible. As she continues to pave the way for women in STEM, we eagerly await the bright future she’s helping to shape, one that is inclusive, innovative, and boundless in its potential. The best, undoubtedly, is yet to come for the empowerment of Gambian women in STEM.