WHEN you think of SIEA (Solomon Islands Electricity Authority), you normally think of men in orange overalls working on power poles or fixing generators, or checking meter boxes.
You never think of women doing this, they are usually in the office behind desks or serving customers. But at around the turn of the century, two women changed that ideology forever at SIEA.
Meet Grace Wate Kikiribatu and Janet Ariropo, two women who preferred to be out in the field with “boys” instead of behind desks at SIEA.
Grace Wate Kikiribatu hails from the man-made island of Sulufou, in the Lau Lagoon.
She is the sixth child in a family of seven children and completed her Secondary education at Waimapuru National Secondary School in 1989.
In 1990, she did her foundation studies at the then Solomon Islands College of Higher Education (SICHE) at the Panatina Campus.
As a student she was very much interested in Electrical studies, and after her Foundation year she did one year of attachment with the electrical department of the Ministry of Works.
Seeing her enthusiasm, the Ministry of work sponsored her to do further studies, so in 1992, it was back to school for Grace.
She undertook the four year program at SICHE and graduated with a Certificate in Electrical Trade in 1996.
She then rejoined the Works Department as a Trainee Inspector for another two years.
It was around that time that she saw the vacancy notice put out by SIEA for Meter Technicians.
She applied and to her surprise she got accepted and began working at SIEA the 24th of June 1999.
“I was very happy to start work in a new place and my duties as a meter technician were to test the meters before installations and carry out meter calibration,” she said with a smile.
Her Supervisor then was Kenny Radave, who is currently the Meter Engineer of SIEA.
He said that Grace was the first female to join his staff and it took some time getting used to her.
“At first it was different because my team was made of men, so when Grace joined, I found that I had to alter the way I run things, such as being more lenient when she had to take a day off to attend to a sick child and so forth,” Mr Radave explained.
However, his doubts about her performance quickly dissipated as Grace proved that she was a hard worker and willing to take on extra responsibilities when asked.
“Grace worked with commitment and I found that she was performing the tasks better than her male counterparts. She helped a lot with our work,” he said.
When Cash Power was first introduced in 2000, Grace was asked not only to test the Cash Power Meters but was also the first Cash Power Cashier.
“It was a welcome challenge to be testing and calibrating the meters and then serving the customers as well, but I managed somehow,” Grace said.
As Cash Power grew in popularity, the demand for cash power cashiers increased and so SIEA decided to bring in the Cash Power Administrator and Grace returned to Meter Testing in 2009.
In 2010 she wanted to go for further training.
“I felt that I could learn more and improve myself,” she explained.
So she applied for Scholarship, and AusAid accepted her application and she got accepted to the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) to do an Associate Degree in Electrical & Electronic Engineering.
Grace left for Australia in January 2011 and has graduated with her Associate Degree in late 2013.
Upon her return she is now with the Regulatory Department as a Graduate Engineer.
Grace is married to Joshua Kikiribatu and they have three boys.
“When I came back from study, I found my new position in SIEA has changed, it challenges me to be more innovative and constructive, and I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the changes, but I know that somehow I will be able to give my best because I have done so in the past and that gives me strength to persevere.”
Janet Ariropo’s story
Like Grace, Janet is also from Malaita, but from the southern tip of the Island.
She decided to be an Electrician early in her Secondary school years.
“I wanted to become an electrician in High school, because I was interested in Science and especially the electric circuits that we learnt,” Janet said.
She did her Form One to three at Rokera Provincial Secondary School and her Form Four and Five at Ruavatu Provincial School.
In 1997, she followed her dream of becoming an electrician and went to the then SICHE, to study Electrical Trade.
However, due to the Ethnic Tension in 1999 and 2000, her studies were interrupted and she carried on with her practical and/or work experience.
During this time she worked with the Ministry of Works, KFPL and a Private Contractor.
In 2005, she was finally able to sit her exams and graduated with her certificate in Electrical Trade.
She then carried on working with the Private Contractor, until 2006, when she applied for a vacancy put out by SIEA, for the post of Electrical Maintenance Officer at the Lungga Power Station.
On the 18th of December 2006, Janet became the first female to work with the Lungga Team.
“I am used to working with men but it does get lonely since I have no female to confide in,” she said.
She also states that because of the nature of her work at Lungga, she is covered in dirty oil and fuel from early morning until the end of day, and she usually gets negative comments from some people.
“I get a lot of negative comments from people, especially in the public buses especially after work and the smell of Lungga Power Station is still on me,” she said with a laugh.
“But I do not mind, because it is just the nature of my work.”
She stayed with the Generation team for four years and then due to health reasons was transferred to the head office.
“I was supposed to be transferred to Customer Services as a Meter Reader, but due to them not having a vacant spot and the thought that women cannot do the job, the then Internal Auditor, Luke Makiwa, asked if I could do a trial meter Audit for the newly formed Audit team,” Janet explained.
She and another colleague then initiated the Meter Audit team and did a trial of the whole Green Valley area in 2010.
From their findings, the Audit Inspectors were formed, of which Janet is still a part of, and their job is to inspect meters to make sure they are not tampered with.
This is an even more challenging and exhausting job as she has to patrol the town usually on foot to inspect meters.
“Some challenges I have encountered in my time as an inspector are difficult and aggressive customers, but I have learnt to stand my own ground and though the verbal abuse can be hard to take, I have learnt to accept it as part of the job,” Janet said.
This petite lady is a mother of four boys and a girl and is married to Willy Nashlee.
These two women have paved the way for many females, and now SIEA has recruited one female Meter Technician, Helen Olisukulu, and two additional female graduate Engineers, Florence Tione and Ann-Marie Daka.
Their stories show that you do not have to change anything to do the thing you want to do.
Just be yourself and prove to the world that you can be able to do it and you can be able to achieve anything.
These two women have managed to change the view SIEA had on women in the technical fields and on this day that is set apart to mark women; SIEA salutes you both for your achievements and for daring to dream of something different and proving that women too can do what was traditionally thought of as a man’s job.
By RUBINA TAGANA
Public relations officer