Working with airlines for 38, Brussels Airlines’ Harelimana yet to take a flight

By Jean d’Amour Mugabo
On 19 October 2017 at 12:11

Calliope Harelimana never forgets February 9, 1979, the day that saw his life changing from a subsistence farmer to assistant of a planes’ mechanical engineer in now defunct Sabena, then sole airline company operating in Rwanda.

• Calliope Harelimana joined Sabena as assistant aircraft technician in 1979
• He was a farmer who completed primary education only
• His knowledge of French language got him a job
• He started job earning Rwf12,000 monthly, so much money considering then currency value compared to today’s value
• He was able to repair planes after eight years learning from a Belgian engineer
• Sabena was dissolved in 2001 and replaced by SN Brussels in 2002 which re-employed Harelimana as a car driver.
• He is paying university’s fees for four children, owns good house in Kigali
• Brussels Airlines covers his and children’s medical costs 100%
• 38 years working for airline companies, Harelimana has never taken flight despite offer of free flights.
• He plans to have three flights abroad, first to Brussels, before retiring.

Harelimana, then 21 years old, was tilling lands in his area of Muyunzwe, Gishweru, now in Ruhango District when his brother’s friend, Jean Damascene Mwumvaneza, asked for a replacement from Sabena technical dockets to join the staff van driving job.

“Mwumvaneza told my brother to bring him that young man (me) who was always number one in class but never got chance to continue to secondary school. I was able to speak French and that was enough to do the job of assisting the Belgian engineer by doing as instructed during the repairing of the plane,” says Harelimana.

When Sabena, former Belgian national carrier, was dissolved in November 2001, Harelimana waited for awhile before SN Brussels took over using some Sabena’s assets and Harelima was re-employed in April 2002 as a car driver. SN Brussels later changed name to Brussels Airlines, keeping Harelimana in the docket till now.

Father of four, Harelimana says he enjoyed much seeing a plane fly after his and fellow senior engineer’s work on a breakdown. “Eight years of learning from my chief engineer, I was able to work on planes’ technical problems and my supervisor would come after to check on the authenticity of my work. For over 20 years in technical job, we faced around 10 serious plane’s breakdowns which took intervention of a technical team from Belgium,” he says.

Harelimana has always found his motivation in good work environment, timely pay and pride of working for giant companies. He started at a salary of Rwf3,500, plus allowances of Rwf8,500 monthly.

“My supervisor said he would get my salary increased after my probation time but I told him the pay was good enough. Rwf12,000 was a lot of money that time and few people were paid such amount which can be equated to Rwf600,000 currently considering the value of franc in the 1970s,” he says.

A journey well travelled

Harelimana first extended pride of working with airlines to his family as he put down his father’s old houses and developed new and better ones immediately after getting into the job. He, as well, paid school fees for some family members. He later built his own house near the Kigali International Airport in Kanombe where he currently lives. He got married in 1990 and produced four children before his wife passed away 15 years ago.

Harelimana is able to pay private university’s fees for four children and provide them with all the required materials, thanks to “my good salary and cash from two rented houses.” The job also got him many friends in the country and abroad. “Belgians treat employees well. They pay good salary on time and lend me when I need money for children’s school fees,” he says.

When he started the job in 1979, Harelimana was told he is entitled to free flights for holidays abroad but he has never used the chance.

“I have never been on a plane because I found it better spending some Rwf400,000 on building houses and supporting family members than spending that on tours abroad. I have spent 38 years in this job without making any flight but I want to have at least three flights abroad before going for retirement,” he says.

Harelimana, 59, says he will have put aside all heavy responsibilities by September 2018 and will have his first flight to visit Brussels where he has many friends and former bosses.

Harelimana says the secret to retain a job lies in loving it and avoid misconduct at work and in society. He worked with many Rwandans before 1994 but he remains in the company with one, Mwumvaneza, to whom he sends his gratitude over getting him into the job.

Harelimana has had a joyful journey for 38 years working with three airline companies
Calliope has become a great example for his collegues
Harelimana says the secret to retain a job lies in loving it and avoid misconduct at work and in society
Calliope Harelimana has worked with airline companies for good 38 years in a joyful journey