International Women’s Day ‘You are the only one with the pen to write your life story so don’t be afraid to create something that you will be proud of’ |09 March 2021
The Seychelles Maritime Academy (SMA) has the mandate to produce the next batch of future scientists, fishermen/women, skippers, boat owners and other fisheries and marine related careers. Every year the increasing number of young girls who study at the SMA indicates that the two sectors are becoming more inclusive of both genders and therefore creating a competitive playground for the best to thrive. In this article, we learn more about an aspiring seafarer, Elma Balette, who is currently pursuing a 2-year programme in Nautical Science at SMA. Elma aspires to work on an international vessel and she is working hard to make that dream come true.
Question: Tell the readers a bit about yourself.
Elma: My name is Elma Balette. I am currently residing at Anse Aux Pins and I’ll be turning 18 this month. I am the second and last child in my family and I am an aspiring seafarer. During my spare time, I enjoy reading, baking, sleeping, catching up with my friends by the beach, or checking out the latest posts on the different trending social media platforms. I also have a passion for the different forms of art, although I prefer performing and graphic arts.
Question: What is your academic and professional background?
Elma: I attended Anse Aux Pins crèche and primary school, followed by Pointe Larue secondary school. I am now following a two-year Advanced Certificate in Nautical Sciences at the Seychelles Maritime Academy. I have had work-based experience at Seypec (Seychelles Petroleum Company) as a deck trainee.
Question: What are your duties and hobbies on a typical school day?
Elma: I usually get up at 5.30 every day so that I don’t get caught up in traffic on my way. A typical school day starts at 8am and ends at 3pm. On days when I go straight home, I will take care of my school uniform and coveralls if necessary, some days I prepare my lunch for the following day since I don’t always buy what’s available in the school cafeteria. I also take care of our two dogs and lend a hand around the kitchen whenever it is needed. Some days I end up taking a 3-hour power nap when I’m really exhausted, but most of the time I’m finishing a book, watching different shows on TV, playing my music a bit too loud or chatting online. Once in a while I attend meetings for CYM (Christian Youth Ministry) where we set up different activities and exchange ideas and on Fridays, I attend Campus Life meetings.
Question: What made you choose a course in fisheries/maritime sector?
Elma: From the start, I never wanted the standard office job. I wanted to be where the action happens, on the move, doing something different each day, a job that provides challenges. At first, I was leaning towards a path in tourism. However, when SALS was removing some subjects on offer, and I started researching for something else, there were so many options available that it was almost overwhelming. My brother just asked me ‘aren’t you fascinated by the ocean? Have you tried finding something in that sector?’ I started my research and ended up finding something that provided everything I wanted out of a career. I knew it was not going to be easy but I was willing to do whatever was needed to get there. I also wanted to see the world and I always preferred rough waters over the calm ambiance whenever we would go cruising on the catamarans or Cat Cocos.
Question: What are the challenges you have faced and are currently facing as a woman in your line of studies?
Elma: Sometimes, even though you want to be part of the team, the job is not always tailored to fit you. It may require more strength than you could offer and even if it is for your own safety, you might feel slightly left out. Most of the time I am surrounded by men, so I have to adapt to the environment and their mannerisms but I try to blend in so that I cancel myself out. In a way, I become one of the boys but it is no longer strange for me since I was the only girl among the cousins while growing up. I feel like I also have to work twice as hard to show my full potential. Sometimes I get stuck with secretary jobs but I have to come out of my comfort zone and negotiate a hands-on job and put in the work. It’s challenging to be constantly trying to prove that you can also make it here but stereotypes are hard to break, even if the association could be unintentional at times. I also have to be confident when trying to prove a point or sharing an opinion since the fight is usually 5 to 1. However, this develops my character and inspires me to become more assertive and stand my ground.
Question: Do you believe there is equality of opportunity for all Seychellois women in the sector that you are studying in?
Elma: I believe there are adequate opportunities and resources for women in this sector. So many times, I have received encouragement from people I did not even know to keep going. I have also met a few who have challenged how far I am willing to go, what am I willing to endure to get where I want to be. The work load may be heavier than a man’s but the opportunity is always available to prove yourself. Being a seafarer is tough. A mother leaving her family behind is tough. But the results from your hard work is always worth it when the people who believed in you from the start are proud to see your accomplishments. So many women follow a course in nautical science and then end up in a regular office job which I think has aided in the expectancy of others for us to quit along the way. But I can say that if you are ready to finish the journey, there will be people ready to support your plans. It also provides inspiration for young women and girls while choosing a career. We are no longer in the era where only women are nurses or only men are soldiers. Times have changed and new doors have opened. All we have to do is take the step.
Question: This year’s theme for Women’s Day is ‘Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a Covid-19 world’. What are your views on this theme?
Elma: I think it is a very powerful statement. Men were always thought to be the leaders and stronger from the start. But Covid affects any and everyone no matter your race, gender or socio-economic background. Women are taking on key functions and taking part in globally impacting decisions. Kamala Harris is now the first woman to become the vice-president of the United States of America and we all love to see her taking her rightfully earned place in such a powerful country. A good plan always needs diverse opinions to balance what is good and what is not, and seeing that the genders have different ways of thinking, fresh ideas and approaches are brought to the table. Women in leadership provides an opportunity to a future where all can benefit from the plan being set into motion, and that strongly represents equality in treatment for all.
Question: What are the sacrifices, both personal and professional, you had to make to be where you are today?
Elma: I wanted to take up art when I was in secondary but physics was a requirement for SMA so I had to swap the two to be able to meet the criteria. At first it was quite simple to understand but as the topic progressed, I felt like I lacked practice so I had to take up extra classes after school and on weekends. Sometimes on Saturdays I would attend two extra classes since my week was already filled out by other subjects, I wanted to improve on so sometimes I missed out in some events or outings with friends and family. It was quite frustrating at times but I made the most of my holidays even if it wasn’t long. Sometimes I had essays or projects to submit and I may not always have the motivation to finish it, so sometimes I went to sleep earlier and woke up a few hours earlier to complete them before I have to hand it in later in the day. Time management for studies, relatives and friends and myself was always a key aspect I had to master. The balance of each is really important and it keeps you grounded. You may have a test next morning but you will sleep much better after a good laugh when you take time to chat with that friend of yours about something random. I am a quiet person by nature, so I had to push myself to engage more with my co-workers and find out some tips or even to ask help to be able to do my job correctly even if I did not feel 100% confident. But over time, I got used to it and created good relationships with the people I worked and studied with.
Question: Where do you see yourself 10 years on in your chosen career path?
Elma: If all goes well, I believe I might be an officer working on an international vessel. It is going to be a whole new experience that I am ready to embrace and share with those around me. I also want to get my degree in business management to prepare for when I retire sailing on a full-time basis. I have a few business ideas that I might venture into later but for now I am mainly focused on getting my qualifications and mastering my craft as an officer. In that time, I hope to grow and expand my knowledge as well as share what I have acquired with those willing to progress in this field.
Question: What message do you have for all the girls and women out there on the occasion of Women’s Day?
Elma: I would like to tell all the women and girls to grab the opportunities before them with both hands. If you have a goal, set a plan in motion and keep pushing until you reach your destination. There will always be obstacles in the way which will coincidentally provide new skills and lessons. When you feel like you are breaking apart, take time to breathe and collect yourself. But whatever you do, keep moving. So many people will tell you what you should do, who you should be, what will suit you best, but don’t take to heart each and every opinion. For those who will discourage you, use it as adrenaline to prove a point, not to them but to yourself. You are the only one with the pen to write your life story so don’t be afraid to create something that you will be proud of. But never forget where you started and who was here before you. Being humble will keep you grounded. Happy Women’s Day!
The accompanying photos show some highlights of Elma’s journey in the maritime field.