Fatou “Juka” Darboe grew up in The Gambia with a family that always encouraged her to work hard and obtain a quality education. As she grew, Juka began to see that not all women had the same opportunities she enjoyed. This revelation inspired her to support women and girls through mentorship programs focused on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) later in her career.
Juka is a YALI Regional Leadership Center alumna and a certified maintenance technician with a background in applied mechanical, electrical and electronics engineering. In 2019, she co-founded Make 3D Company Limited, the first and only 3D printing company in The Gambia. Her company first started when she met her partner, Silvestr Tkáč, a tech enthusiast who wanted to bring the world of 3D printing to The Gambia. After a couple of months, Juka and Silvestr realized the potential 3D printing could have in Gambian manufacturing and tech spaces and registered to become a permanent business.
An Essential Business in the Fight Against COVID-19
When Make3D Company Limited first started, Juka and Silvestr wanted to create strategic partnerships to help their business flourish. They proposed a collaboration with the Medical Research Council Unit of The Gambia (MRCG). Five months after their initial meeting, The Gambia had its first COVID-19 case, and they were contracted to produce 3D-printed protective gear and equipment for medical personnel. They also worked at the MRCG Biomedical Engineering Lab in 2020 to create innovative 3D-print solutions for health care workers.
In another partnership with the International Trade Center through the Gambia Youth Empowerment Project, they manufactured over 8,000 face shields used at the main referral hospital in The Gambia. Their 3D templates were used across the country to create face masks to help protect Gambian citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Breaking Gender Imbalances in The Gambia
Juka continues to be an example of feminine strength, even with gender equality issues in her career field. As one of the few women in The Gambia who work in STEM, she often feels sidelined by people who value the opinions of her male counterparts more than her own. Her dedication to STEM and determination to succeed gave her the strength she needed to become a leader in her field.
In her spare time, Juka promotes women in STEM by providing mentorship programs, speaking at events and organizing training sessions. She believes that if women can run households, they can lead in the STEM field and solve the many problems we face in the world today. She provides the following steps to success for women interested in STEM careers:
- Be persistent and follow your dreams.
- Engage with other women.
- Research and look for solutions.
- Do apprenticeships and get firsthand experience.
Juka said: “I am a firm believer that to tackle the inequality in gender, and in this case STEM, parents need to start treating their kids as equals regardless of their sex. Start with giving them the same chores, encouraging them towards the same hobbies and interests, and before you know it, we will have more young girls believing that they can [succeed] in STEM [careers].”
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The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author or interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government.