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‘When You Make Something With Your Bare Hands, You Are Practicing a Combination of Science and Art.’ – Newal Imam

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Shabait.com (Asmara) interview By Sona Berhane

Our guest today is Newal Imam Mohammed-Seid, a promising young student making waves in the field of Mechanics, a traditionally male-dominated profession.

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Tell us about yourself.

My name is Newal Imam. I was born in 2003 in Asmara. I’ve just completed 11th grade and graduated top of my class from Halay Technical School. I will soon be going to Sawa for my national service.

Did you always want to go to Technical School?

Yes, that was my plan. But I had initially intended to go to Halay Technical School with the aim of studying in the Electronics department but at the last minute decided to go into Machine Shop. A lot of people were shocked and emphatically warned me that mechanics was not for girls.

What made you choose Machine Shop?

I’m not sure. It was almost a spur-of-the-moment decision. But during orientation, I was deeply impressed by what the instructor said, and I said to myself, why not? I would be learning something new, and it really did seem interesting to me in the beginning.

What about later on? Did you ever regret your decision?

Never. I believe it was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life.

How did your family take the news?

My parents were quite worried at first. But when they saw how much I loved the courses, they became very supportive, especially my older brother. And even my classmates, almost all of whom were male, were a considerable help. I was completely and utterly new to the profession but most of the boys were familiar with the tools and what they’re for and knew almost all the mechanical jargon. I was famous in class for constantly bombarding the teachers with questions like what this tool or that tool was called, and what it’s used for. They always answered my questions patiently. The teachers are really dedicated and take the lessons very seriously.

Was it difficult being one of only two girls in your class?

No. Surprisingly, it was only an issue for people outside the school. (Laughs)

Because my classmates were very cooperative and never treated us unfairly. The instructors treated us all equally and did not allow anyone to be lazy or miss workshops.

But there was one incident that made me very upset. At the end of the first year, I was ranked 3rd in my class. My name was called out and I went to receive the prize. When I came back to my seat, I overheard a student’s father scolding his son because a girl did better than him.

He said it as though it would have been more acceptable if a male student did better than him. I remember the comment made me very angry. I decided I would do even better the next year and rank top of the class. But I was also sad for a while. It is these kinds of conventional, discriminatory views that hold a lot of promising young students back from pursuing the professions they truly want. I was inspired to be one of the students that challenged and changed these harmful views.

What was your favorite aspect of learning mechanics?

I had no idea we would begin our workshop practice by making the tools from scratch. We had to cut, wield and file every cog, screw, wheel – all sorts of tools. It was tough handwork because we wouldn’t start using machines until much later. It was very rough on the hands and took me some getting used to but I enjoyed it immensely. I liked the fact that it was an active, hands-on profession. I’m not a sitter by nature so I appreciated that I would do most of the work on my feet, not sitting at a desk or staring into a screen. Also, when you make something with your bare hands, you are practicing a combination of science and art. You need to take care to be extremely precise with your measurements, but you also need to have some aesthetic sensibility as well.

And what was the most challenging part of studying Mechanical Shop?

There was one class, Mechanical Drawing, which was by far extremely taxing. We learned about preparing a blueprint of whatever tool or machine we intended to build, but it entailed an exacting degree of accuracy in taking measurements. If my measurement was off by as little as a millimeter, I would have to draw the project all over again. It was the most exhausting course.

What did you make for your final project?

The final project was my idea. I proposed we make an easier, safer biscuit maker and my teammates liked the idea. We designed the biscuit maker in such a way that the dough wouldn’t have to be placed in the open compartment at the top where it is usually exposed and in danger of contamination. We used aluminum because it’s more versatile than iron and you wouldn’t have to worry about rust. And of course, we made every piece of the apparatus ourselves.

Tell me about your graduation photo.

I’m wearing navy overalls. It’s my workshop uniform. I’ve noticed that only medical doctors wear their white lab coats in their graduation photos. For many, the mechanic profession is held in low regard but I think mechanics a complex, interesting science. I wore my working uniform to express my love and respect for the profession. I’m even holding some mechanical tools in my hands.

What do you plan to study in the future?

I would like to get into Mechanical Engineering to continue my studies. This is definitely what I want to do in the future.

Read the original article on Shabait.