Nakato's job is checking the quality of fuel (Daily Monitor (Uganda))

Fact file

Born: Late 1980s, to Mr Gerald Mayanja and Ms Margaret Ssanyu of Kawempe.
Schools Attended: Kawempe Muslim Primary school, Kawempe Muslim Secondary school and Kyambogo University.
Marital Status: Engaged

The moment you set eyes on Josephine Nakato dressed up for work, the safety helmet on her head and the safety shoes on her feet scream out that hers is a pretty physical kind of working environment.

If you are the reflective type, it should then get you thinking of the fact that women who buckle up like her in order to get down to their daily work aren’t a very common sight in our corner of the world. May be it should even call to your mind the fact that work which requires one to buckle up in a helmet and safety shoes is largely considered exclusive to the male gender in our part of the world.

But get to investigate more about her and her work, and you will discover that even as she buckles up like a builder to get down to business, Nakato’s work isn’t exactly physical endeavour involving much of bodily exertion. And you will discover it is more of hardcore laboratory business calling for more intellectual than physical rigour, with the safety wear meant more for protecting her from possible harm from chemicals. In fact, look closer at her dressed-for-work image, and you will notice that her safety wear also includes a white gown and a pair of white gloves which items naturally suggest a laboratory kind of working environment.

Testing the fuel in the company laboratory
Nakato works with what is arguably the biggest fuel company in the country, Vivo Energy (formerly known as Shell). Her official title is ‘Chemist,’ but that hardly tells the rather unique job she does at the company. Nakato primarily works in the company’s laboratory, testing the company’s fuel to ensure it is of the standard quality desired by both the company and the national standards body the Uganda National Bureau of Statistics (UNBS). The job is unique, at least in Uganda, because if you try to find out how many other people in the country are engaged in her kind of work (testing the quality of fuel to ensure it meets standards) you won’t find more many.

According to her, besides her two colleagues at the Vivo Energy laboratories (both men), the only other five people known to do similar work in the country are those employed at UNBS who test the fuel of all the other fuel companies in the country because Vivo Energy is the only fuel company in the country with its own laboratory.

“We test for so many things,” Nakato says when asked to explain what exactly her job entails. “We test all of the company’s fuel to ensure it doesn’t have water, we check the fuel’s density to ensure it is of the required level, we check the fuel’s appearance to ensure the fuel doesn’t have abnormal suspensions, we check for the boiling characteristics of the fuel to ensure the fuel is at the right temperature to be transported without bursting into flames, among other things.”

The chemist confesses that every day she reports to work it is actually real hard work every single minute, as her and the other two team members have to test so many different samples of fuel taken from different stages of the importation and distribution chain.

She says: “We have to test all the fuel that arrives before it is put into the tanks for storage, then we test all the fuel that the company is sending out to the market, then we test the fuel being sold on the market, to mention but a few of the stages from where we daily take samples for testing.”

quality at fuel stations
This is the part of Nakato’s work that makes the title of ‘chemist’ seem rather inadequate for capturing her exact professional exertions. The one which incites thoughts like she would be more aptly titled Fuel Quality Auditor.

In addition to testing the quality of fuel at the laboratories, here Nakato and her two colleagues are tasked with visiting the petrol stations that act as retail outlets for Vivo Energy fuel, again to ensure that the fuel at the stations does meet standards. And here the work is actually more like auditing, for like a police crime investigator the team arrives at a petrol station without any prior indication and gets to examine the quality of fuel in the pumps and in the underground tanks.

Where they find that a given company’s fuel doesn’t meet the standards, the team has the mandate to close a station until the fuel quality issues have been resolved if the problem is a case of a leaked pipe contaminating the fuel, until the petrol station has fixed the leaked pipe.

Nakato explains: “As a team we have to do a quarterly check on every one of the 120 stations we supply with fuel as Vivo. We have to check on each station at least once every three months. Our team schedule is designed such that at least one member is in the field every day checking up on the quality of different stations’ fuel.”

Born to be a scientist

The fact that she is a woman in a rather unique field of science is unquestionably one of the most eye-catching features about Nakato’s professional life, and she acknowledges this much before going on to express pride about it.

Asked whether it wasn’t tough for her to join the science world which traditionally has been known as a domain for boys, and whether it hasn’t been a challenge to sustain herself as a woman in such a unique field, Nakato says for her everything simply fell in place, and adds that perhaps it is because this is what she was born to be.

“It all started in my secondary school at Kawempe Muslim Secondary School,” she says when asked to trace her journey into the science world. “I was doing the science subjects very well and I enjoyed them more than the arts, and it made me begin to have ambitions for science professions. I especially loved and excelled at Chemistry, and after I studied Physics, Chemistry, Maths and Biology (PCBM) at A-Level. I got a government scholarship at Kyambogo University to study a Bachelor of Science Technology degree.”

Explaining that at Kyambogo University between 2007 and 2010, she studied different types of chemistry foams, paints, cement, water, glass, beverages, water, fuel, among others Nakato says she started her professional journey as an intern doing industrial training at Crest Foam Uganda Ltd in 2008. After graduation in 2010 she worked with Kampala Pharmaceutical Industries for two years, then she joined Vivo Energy in mid-2012, where she was given on-the-job training specific to the type of work she does.

“It’s just a myth,” she says of the widely-held belief that boys are better suited for science studies and careers than girls. “In school I saw many girls excel at sciences as much as the best boys in their classes, and they went on to become accomplished professional scientists doing as well as men in their respective fields. Some are now doctors, others engineers, others teachers, and the ones who were ahead of me inspired me much. ”

Nakato calls on school-going girls interested in science professionals to have belief and work hard toward their dreams, and she says even those who wish to emulate her should have hope because with Uganda set to become an oil-producing country there will be innumerable opportunities for so many people to work in the sector.


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