Being a daughter to a banker and a preacher meant that stakes were high when Joan was to choose her career path. Education did not seem to favor her as she fell pregnant as a teenager and dropped out of school. Fortunately, her family was supportive despite being disappointed after their discovery. Efforts by her father to convince her to go back to complete her secondary education proved futile as she opted to get married.
The marriage lasted for four years. Her husband became abusive and once he hit her so badly she ended up in the hospital with a broken jaw. Joan managed to leave the abusive relationship and decided to look for employment in order to make ends meet to sustain herself and her son. The Red Cross advert she came across in the local newspaper became a light at the end of the tunnel.
Her workmate at the Meat company, where she was a delivery driver, encouraged her to apply after seeing her work hard and with dedication. She applied for the job as a driver and after both oral and practical interviews she was hired. The humanitarian field was not new to her as she had served as a volunteer in a local NGO prior to finding formal employment. However, the first four years at her new job were going to be challenging as the National Society did not consistently pay their salaries. Nevertheless, she held on and prayed with nothing but faith and continued to report for work every day.
It was not until 2012, when the National Society had a change of management that working conditions were improved. Joan was still the only woman, working with ten men. This was not anything she shied away from, rather she found it interesting and something to look forward to. Unfortunately, most of them gave up their jobs to look for greener pastures, which reduced the manpower from eleven to two.
Joan wanted to improve her skills on the road but was hesitant after receiving discouragement from her male colleague. Time came when her services were needed in the remote sandy plains of Western Zambia. Her colleague was at it again and told the Project officer to replace her with him. The Project Officer, however, insisted that it was time for Joan to equal to the task of her job description. She drove the team through the plains and terrains which impressed the Project manager who later shook her hand for rising up to the challenge.
Another challenge Joan has faced has been working late and being away from home. She is now remarried and is a mother of 6 and grandmother of 5. Despite this, she is grateful to her husband who understands her passion for humanity.
– Joan Kamanga, Zambia
A proud ‘Brand Ambassador’ for her National Society
Twelve years down the line, Joan is now the longest serving female driver in the history of Zambia Red Cross. She gives herself a pat on the back for taking the job and redefining the traditional norms about women. She had her longest one-day drive last year in June when she covered 1,050 km in twelve hours at, what she describes as, “very good speed”. She boasts of having less than fifteen tire punctures and not more than handful breakdowns in all her years of service. She says God has helped her get through her everyday challenges of juggling work, family and church ministry as a pastor at her local church.
Meeting people of different cultures and traditions is Joan’s main joy of the job. She takes pride in calling herself ‘Brand Ambassador’ as she is the first person international delegates come in contact with when she picks them up from the airport. With so much passion for her career, Joan adds how she has conquered a traditionally male dominated fraternity, but not anymore. She wishes to go back to school and complete her secondary education when her work schedule allows.
7 young women for every 10 young men complete upper secondary school in low-income countries. If we want more future female leaders, we need to close the gender gap in education.