Power Africa recognizes the valuable contributions of persons with disabilities to Africa’s energy sector, as well as the powerful role that energy can play in helping those with disabilities realize their full potentials.
On the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, December 3, we celebrate the work of Gwaliwa Mashaka, a 2019 graduate of Power Africa and the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI)’s Young Women in African Power Leadership Training, advocate for persons with disabilities, data and software engineer, and innovator.
While studying for her bachelor’s degree in computer engineering at the University of Dar es Salaam, Gwaliwa Mashaka contracted an ear infection that led to a total loss of hearing. As a result, Gwaliwa had to put her studies on hold because her university lacked the accommodations necessary for her to continue. After two years, Gwaliwa received life changing treatment, allowing her to use a device to communicate with others and have the necessary support to complete her education.
Upon completing her studies, Gwaliwa developed pioneering software providing a long-term tool for the mining, oil and gas sectors to interpret magnetic anomalies caused by ore. This success allowed Gwaliwa to secure a scholarship for a Master’s Degree in geospatial data at Aberdeen University where she studied remote sensing for pipeline monitoring.
Today Gwaliwa works as a data and software engineer in the Tanzanian energy sector. She is a 2019 graduate of Power Africa’s Young Women in African Power Leadership Training, a 2016 YALI Mandela Washington Fellow, 2018 Professional Fellows Program on Inclusive Disability Employment Fellow, and the recipient of a 2019 Google Scholarship for Students in Software Development.
Opportunities for Others
Gwaliwa’s hearing loss had a profound impact on her. Having overcome immense challenges to pursue her studies, Gwaliwa is committed to creating opportunity for others. This conviction led her to launch “Employable Africa,” a social enterprise aimed at granting access to meaningful employment for persons with disabilities.
“This experience gave me the purpose to amplify the voices of people who otherwise might not be heard.”
Employable Africa works with students, parents, teachers, and employers to collectively create possibilities for students by building a pipeline from education to work through the establishment of tailored internships. It works intimately with teachers to coordinate work-based learning for students that matches student skills development with employers’ needs. On the demand side, Employable Africa works with employers to set up internships that complement the student profiles. It also advises employers on how best to address disability inclusion at their workplaces — this might involve building walking paths that accommodate “walking bicycles,” and access to other assistive devices.
Gwaliwa feels strongly that the energy sector is unique in its potential for addressing the needs of the disabled. Access to energy makes possible the use of assistive devices such as electric wheelchairs, lighting adjustment systems to reduce negative impacts to the visually impaired, and transcription software for the deaf. As Gwaliwa’s own experience demonstrates, access to appropriate treatment and accommodations can have an immediate impact on a disabled person’s ability to attend school and pursue a meaningful career. When provided the appropriate tools and resources, Gwaliwa has thrived both within and beyond the energy sector.
To learn about USAID’s approach to advancing inclusive development through disability inclusion, please read here.