Standing at five feet 11 inches tall, she literally towers over her peers. She has equally pursued a career rarely trodden by women. Her towering height, probably signifies the tall order this pursuit demands, but she nevertheless became a highway engineer at a tender age.
Engineer Jeniffer Jelagat Bitok, 33, has weathered all the odds to emerge among the few engineers at the Kenya Urban Roads Authority (KURA) based at the headquarters in Nairobi. Although it is considered a man’s preserve, Engineer Bitok is up to the task, ready to roll up her sleeves and execute tough assignments to ensure Kenyans have quality roads.
Prior to her posting to Kura headquarters, she had served as a municipality engineer at then Kapsabet Municipal council for three years. Eng Bitok, who holds a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering from the University of Nairobi, was also a site engineer for Parliament projects for one year.
At Kura, her duties include designing new roads, maintenance of existing ones, preparing tender documents, supervision and costing.
With such a job description, one would expect her to be overwhelmed. “There is a lot to do, but I love it all. For me, there are no major challenges, I see opportunities to better my craft,” she beams with confidence during our interview.
With her professional success, one could mistake that she hails from an affluent background. But far from it. She fits into Chinua Achebe’s analogy in Things Fall Apart that “looking at a king, one may think they never suckled their mother’s breasts.”
Her tale on how she was brought up at Chepkoiyo village, Kabiyet in Nandi North district from a poor family of a single mother, is moving.
“We grew up at a farmhouse where a volunteer allowed my mother to reside together with my two brothers and four sisters,” recalls the fifth born in her family.
She adds: “My mother used to earn minimal wages by working on people’s farms and sometimes she sold vegetables or illicit brews to provide for us”.
Most times, she attended school barefoot and could sometimes miss lessons for lacking uniform.
Her star started rising after sitting her Kenya Certificate of Primary Education at Chepkoiyo Primary school in 1995 and scored 532 marks out of a possible 700.
She was the best in her school and among the top in the district. This earned her a place at the prestigious Moi Girls High School in Eldoret.
But this opportunity came with myriad challenges.
“My mother could not afford my school fees and that of my siblings. At some point my brothers had to drop out from Kapsabet Boys High School. Though I remained in school, I was chased away several times for school fees. But thanks to the church and Good Samaritans, I was able to complete my studies,” she says.
Some of her benefactors include then Mosop MP John Sambu, who in many instances intervened and cleared her fees when she was in Form One. “The situation was so bad, at times I could be sent home for school fees but even bus fare was a problem,” she recalls.
At Form Three, her class teacher noted her predicaments and wrote a letter recommending her to be awarded a bursary. This was after she became number seven out of 160 students.
When she sat her Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education in 1999, she scored a strong B+.
“I had an intention of pursuing medicine, but with a B+ I did not qualify hence I opted for engineering,” she says.
She proceeded to the University of Nairobi where she graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Civil Engineering. She says her university education was smooth due to easy access to the Higher Education Loans Board funds.
“Even though my schooling was full of many downs, I am glad I never got discouraged nor distracted by these setbacks. I always had my eyes firmly fixed on my goal,” says Eng Bitok.
Bitok plans to pursue a Masters Degree in Highways Engineering from July this year.
Apart from her great strides in her career, the engineer is also making a mark in her community.
She is a well-known achiever back at home and is giving back to the community by mentoring girls.
“I want to do more and I encourage girls not to look down upon themselves,” she adds.