Article by: Anniek Corporaal
Civil engineer Cecilia (Sandra Jerónimo Francisco) Chamutota was appointed Deputy Minister of Public Works, Housing and Water Resources in February 2020, when she was 28 years old, being the youngest member of the Government of Mozambique. Recently, she was appointed to State Secretary of Sofala, Mozambique. Wetskills was an important milestone for her professional success. In this article Chamutota addresses the importance of programmes like Wetskills.
For Mozambique, recognizing and supporting young talent is key. This huge country, covering an area of over 800.000 km2 with 2.000 km of coastal line, has a very young population. To stimulate an income for life, impactful education and self-employment opportunities are offered. Talented Cecilia grabbed those opportunities with both hands, firstly achieving her degree in Civil Construction Engineering from Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo, Mozambique.
Embracing water subjects
Studying Civil Engineering it was water that caught Cecilia’s main focus, she says.
“My hydraulics topics teachers were very nice, and they really helped me seeing the beauty of the sector. Lecture after lecture, I embraced all the water related subjects, and I became very motivated to stay in the area. Did you know that in Mozambique, in urban areas, only 62% of the population has access to sanitation and 85% has access to water, and in rural areas only 36% of the population has access to sanitation and 56% has access to water?
Also, Mozambique is a vulnerable country to extreme weather events (droughts, floods, cyclones and tropical storms). This year for example, between January and March, Mozambique has been hit by three cyclones and two tropical storms that caused property and human damage. Since my study, I have always been very motivated to find integrated solutions that lead to more access to water and sanitation and for a better water resources management.”
Then Wetskills came along
In 2013, Wetskills came her way, providing her with the chance to deepen her skills in the water world.Wetskills is a Dutch initiative that promotes water related challenges in several countries, highlighting the talent and knowledge of young professionals. She participated in the Wetskills Challenge Programme in Maputo and was a member of the winning team.
Cecilia: “Wetskills Maputo facilitated a challenge for young professionals from Mozambique and The Netherlands. Our Wetskills project was about combining the well-known concept of Polders and Dams, creating space for the river. Mozambique has floods cyclically, and in 9 of the 15 great rivers the country has, it receives a great amount of water from upstream countries during the rain season. When the rain season ends, all water has gone to the sea and in some regions that results in water scarcity. The solution provided for this challenge, was to build more multipurpose dams (dams for electricity generation, water supply, stream river regulation and irrigation). These dams would be combined with Polders, to increase the dam reservoir capacity to maximize the gains and make the dams more sustainable.”
Later that year Cecilia also joined to Wetskills Challenge in The Netherlands, which took place at the Amsterdam International Water Week in 2013.
Cecilia: “It was a unique experience to participate in this international Wetskills edition with people from all over the world. I met people from Taiwan, Ukraine, South Africa, Israel, Egypt and so on. We learnt a bit about the culture of these different countries and how they manage the water related issues. We also had the opportunity to visit dams in the Netherlands and to learn how the water resources management is done in the country. My team came up with a solution of using cavitation to disinfect water in the seedling potato industry, to reduce the water footprint. Unfortunately, my team didn’t win this time, but these two weeks were an experience for life.”
Think beyond borders
“For young people in underdeveloped countries, it is of the greatest importance to think beyond borders, Cecilia says. “We are not much exposed to what is happening outside our countries, we don’t have the real information of how others are dealing with problems, also because we have to deal with other realities, like not having access to sanitation and clean water.
Wetskills gave me the opportunity to represent Mozambique in other countries and pick up knowledge about the water sector. I met many different people from many different cultures and countries. We discussed the challenges we all faced and shared the solutions we developed – all very useful to our realities. That really helped influencing the way we deal with water challenges.”
During Wetskills, Cecilia improved her entire skillset. She is especially thankful for the lessons she learned in restructuring projects and public speaking. “We learned how to structure a project in a clear way, from A to Z, and that made the difference in my daily work. Also, I have learned how to speak clear and transfer my ideas to other people. A great lesson: now I you can speak clear and with confidence, and transfer my ideas to others in an engaging way. This skill really comes in handy in my current job.”
Inauguration as ambassador
Last June, Cecilia was inaugurated as ambassador of Wetskills, during a ceremony at the cocreateMYCITY Conference in Durban, South Africa. “I am very grateful for this nomination. This is not only a recognition for myself, but also for Mozambique, emphasizing our government’s commitment to invest in young professionals, nominating them for leadership positions in various areas, as a demonstration of confidence in the capacity of youth to drive the country’s progress.”
Cecilia has an important message for the international water community: “For my country, I am always on the lookout for different kinds of technology and all sorts of data that helps us develop and implement integrated solutions for a blue-green economy. However: we can’t afford it, not even the outdated solutions. So my appeal to developed countries would be: could you make tech and data we need so bad more affordable or in other ways accessible?”
About Cecilia Chamutota
Cecilia holds a degree in Civil Construction Engineering from Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo, Mozambique since 2013 and for her formation she carried out experimental tests at the Laboratory of Maritime Engineering of the Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya, Spain. Throughout her career, she was involved in Roads, Housing, Public Water Supply Systems, Sanitation and Rainwater Drainage Projects in almost all provinces of Mozambique. Chamutota is 32, married and mother of a son.