by Christine Lagat
NAIROBI, April 20 (Xinhua) -- Patricia Tafawa was elated upon learning that she was among 40 Kenyan youths who beat tough competition to win scholarships from China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) to pursue majors in railway technology at Beijing Jiaotong University starting from May.
The 19-year-old actuarial science under-graduate student at a local public university has since childhood defied entrenched cultural myths and stereotypes to study technical courses that are largely shunned by the female gender in Kenya.
Tafawa told Xinhua during a farewell ceremony for CRBC scholarship beneficiaries on Friday that a study tour in China has presented a golden opportunity for her to realize long-cherished dreams.
"I have never shied away from challenging tasks and pursuing a major in civil and structural engineering in China will test my grit and determination to succeed in the face of huge odds," said Tafawa.
"I look forward to utilizing knowledge and skills acquired in China to improve transport networks in our country, especially roads and railways," she added.
Tafawa is among a growing army of young Kenyans who have benefitted from China-funded skills development to help transform the country's railway transport sector.
So far, CRBC has sponsored 100 Kenyan youths to pursue advanced courses in railway engineering, maintenance and operations at the prestigious Beijing Jiaotong University.
Tafawa and her 40 peers were excited by the prospect of studying railway engineering in China and vowed to return home and help their country realize its quest for modernization of transport sector.
"My desire is to come back after completing studies and participate in our country's development. Our skills will be required as the government embark on modernization of railway system to propel industrial growth," said Tafawa.
Other beneficiaries of the third and final batch of CRBC scholarships to study railway-related courses in China were upbeat their lives were to be changed.
James Chira Kamau, 26-year-old major in tours and travel said he felt honored to be among 40 Kenyan youth who are set to join Beijing Jiaotong University for elite courses in railway engineering and operations.
"Am very glad for this opportunity to study a technical course in line with my childhood dreams. I promise to get a first class honors and come back to develop our country's infrastructure," Kamau told Xinhua.
He noted that Chinese financial and technical support has been instrumental in transforming the lives of Kenyan youth.
James Macharia, Kenya's Cabinet Secretary for transport, infrastructure and housing, was joined by Chinese Ambassador to Kenya, Liu Xianfa and senior executives from CRBC during the send-off ceremony for the scholarship beneficiaries.
Macharia said Kenya appreciated China's support to help bridge skills gap in the rapidly evolving railway sector.
"We need to increase the capacity to develop the entire railway systems," said Macharia adding that Kenya could soon be a hub for skills and knowledge transfer in railways operations and management.
China-sponsored elite courses in modern railway management have provided a new lease of life to the country's youth who often grapple with unemployment after graduating from college.
Emmanuel Kahindi, a 24-year-old mechanical engineering graduate from a local public university, said he looked forward to a transformative experience during the four-year study tour in China.
"This is a great chance for me to improve my engineering skills and I intend to come back to Kenya and make the country better in the areas of infrastructure development and manufacturing," said Kahindi.
He noted that Kenya could tap into Chinese expertise and advanced technologies to upgrade its railway systems and decongest roads.
The launch of the 480 kilometers Nairobi-Mombasa Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) by President Uhuru Kenyatta in May last year has necessitated the need to train additional personnel to enhance its operations.
Li Qiang, CRBC Vice President of General Manager of Kenya Office, said the 40 Kenyan students who are set to enroll for advanced courses in railway engineering at the university in Beijing will be a critical asset during construction of other SGR phases.
The scholarship beneficiaries on their part said they hoped to be roped in during implementation of the remaining sections of SGR that is expected to open Kenyan hinterland to investments and trade.
Mutai Kiplagat, a 20-year-old civil engineering major at the University of Nairobi, said an opportunity to pursue railway related courses at a prestigious Chinese university will have ripple effects in his community and country at large.
"It is a good chance that will be beneficial to the country now that we are aiming to become a middle-income economy with modern roads, railways and industries," said Kiplagat.