Young Woman Welder is Moulding Next Generation
Innocentia Vilakazi, a facilitator at the Salesians’ Don Bosco Educational Projects (DBEP) in Ennerdale, Johannesburg, is among a small cohort of women welders in South Africa — thanks to God.
She qualified in 2013 and worked at Aveng Engineering as a structural welder before joining DBEP. This came about through personal pain.
“My life was about careers and making money and in the process, I lost sight of God,” she said.
“At the end of 2016 I lost everything I worked for: car, house, my marriage…everything just fell apart. I fell into depression.
“The year 2017 was even worse; but then that’s when I started developing a relationship with God again,” she said.
“And in 2018 I discovered DBEP, applied for this job vacancy and got it. At this stage in my life I had absolutely nothing but faith.”
DBEP runs several centres in Ennerdale, providing basic education and skills to young people not able to register at formal educational institutes. The Salesian initiative works with community and church leaders.
Ms Vilakazi said she loves her job. “Being at DBEP is such a pleasure for me; I love my working environment. Working with these young people keeps you young!
“I learn to appreciate them because they come from backgrounds that are tough and challenging. I learn to value their talents and skills,” she said.
“When I go to bed I reflect on the things that happened during the day and I think to myself, ‘What am I going to do better tomorrow?’” she added.
Ms Vilakazi has also learnt patience. “Sometimes I want to fix situations these youngsters go through, but then you realise you can’t fix every situation.”
She believes there are key differences between a Salesian education and other institutions.
“At DBEP it is not only about career growth, but personal growth also. We work on their faith, we work on their personal skills, interpersonal skills. More is invested in developing the person.
“Just as the career is important, so too the soul, the spirit, has to be taken care of. Look at schools today, children don’t even pray at schools anymore!”
Ms Vilakazi has faced challenges as a woman in a “man’s world”.
“As a female welder you are more prone to exploitation. Sometimes companies look at your CV and think, ‘It’s a woman, so she can’t work as fast as a man or she can’t work as hard as a man,’ she noted.
“In actual truth, women are far better welders than men because it is a very delicate skill which requires precision,” she argued.
Ms Vilakazi aims high for her students.
“You get youngsters who start this course and say to themselves, ‘I want to make burglar bars’, and I think to myself, ‘No…you must aim higher: design power stations, make boilers, create bigger things.’
“When you have worked on a big project with others you can say, ‘Yeah, I made that, my stamp is on that.’”
Her message to youth is to persevere. “Don’t give up on yourself, and don’t give up on God because God is a very jealous God. He can shake your world to get your attention. You must understand how precious your soul is to God,” she said.
And Ms Vilakazi’s advice to women? “Know your worth, think of yourself as the queen you are!”
Edited article from the quarterly Salesian Bulletin.