Walga is currently a mechanical engineering lecturer at Addis Ababa University and the CEO of Abugida Robotics Technology Centre. In addition, she serves as an ambassador and country curator for STEMi Makers Africa, an Ethiopian volunteer-based initiative. But her journey was littered with setbacks and obstacles, which only served to spur her on instead of demoralising her. Walga was lucky enough to identify her passion at a very young age and this saw her innovating while in middle school because she always enjoyed finding solutions to problems. By the time she was at high school she had invented a food processing machine; issued with a patent and also launched her own company.
Born 28 years ago in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa to a merchant father and a housewife mother, Walga is youngest child with three older siblings. Her older siblings were sent to study abroad while she remained at home with her mother because the family’s financial coffers have dried up making it impossible for her to study abroad. The absence of her siblings and the subsequent death of her father created a “debilitating” void in her. But she used this moment to reflect and “learn more about myself because I was not distracted or affected by others”.
Inventing food machine
She says her high school period represented a critical turning point in her life as she developed a food processing machine to alleviate her mother’s and other women’s problem in her country. “My mother used to conduct a particularly arduous food processing labour known as “Kocho” purification. I was so moved that I wanted to create a machine that would help her and other mothers do less work,” says Walga. She says she believes in science because it satisfies a human being’s most basic demands for survival. “Every human being has a basic physical and psychological requirement that must be met in order for them to exist and live a happy life. As the population number increases, these demands are less met. This gap, which can only be bridged via science, is the source of starvation, war, child abuse, and a slew of other problems. Thus the more the science advances positively, the more basic human needs are addressed, and the more stability in our world is attained,” she says.
“My mother used to conduct a particularly arduous food processing labour known as “Kocho” purification. I was so moved that I wanted to create a machine that would help her and other mothers do less work,” says Walga.
Developing STEM content
After inventing the food processor, Walga gained recognition and also got invited by the Ethiopian Intellectual property office to represent Ethiopia and present her work abroad. She was then allocated to Addis Ababa University Institute of Technology after graduating from preparatory school, and chose mechanical engineering as her major with the ultimate goal of creating medically relevant equipment or machines. She enrolled for different programmes one of which was working on a book containing several science projects for children and she subsequently designed a STEM curriculum for middle school students. Walga then applied for a part time position as a science teacher to apply the content of the book she was developing. Her next big step was to start a robotics project called Yeneta Robotics to provide robotics training and earned three awards at east Africa level representing Ethiopia, country level and sub city level. At the same time she was studying for her MSc. degree in thermo-fluid engineering at Addis Ababa University Institute of Technology, conducting foundational research on electro-hydrodynamic modeling.
But like most women in science, Walga has had a fair share of challenges. Chief among these was lack of a role model and many people felt she was pursuing what was considered a man’s job. “I was a girl and very young. I had no clue of where to start, what to aim for and who to reach out to and there was no incubation centre to help me hone my skills”, she says.
Advice to young scientist
Walga’s advice to young scientists is that they should understand that science is a vital tool to tackle various challenges people encounter in their homes, communities, countries and the world as a whole in this period of the 4.0 industrial revolution. “As a result, the field will always be demanding, and women will always be needed in this profession. Women who want to pursue a career in science should volunteer in various science-related organisations to get leadership and technical skills. This will assist them in determining their area of expertise and defining their purpose. If they do so, they can launch and strengthen their own initiative that can impact people lives at a young age. However, they should always aim big but start small.