'If the boys can cook, then I can build!'

‘I always hated watching my grandmother and mother work so hard, and yet benefit so little from their labour,’ says Kira Farm graduate, Denise Akech. ‘When they made money from growing crops my father always took it from them.

‘Observing this while growing up made me determined to earn a living for myself. My brother is a builder and when I saw him earn a decent wage I decided I wanted to work in construction too.

‘When I was called for an interview at Kira Farm I was asked what I wanted to study, but I didn’t mention building because I thought Amigos, like everyone else, wouldn’t approve of a girl training in this area.

‘After spending three weeks at Kira studying tailoring and hairdressing - like all the girls - my burning desire to study construction simply increased. I looked around me and there were boys cooking and mopping like the girls do back home and I thought: If they’re doing girls’ jobs, why shouldn’t I do a boy’s job?

‘When I asked Alex, the construction trainer, if I could join his class he happily welcomed me in. The boys were all surprised to see me and thought I wasn’t serious, but when I turned up again the next day, proving my commitment, they were very supportive and helped me catch up.

Back home

‘When I went home for my semester break I surprised the entire village by telling them I'd become a mason, no girl has ever done that before and they couldn't believe such words were coming out of a lady's mouth. They asked why I'd opted for bricklaying and I told them, frankly, that I wanted to challenge the boys. The whole village was amazed by my level of determination but I had no doubt that they would soon see me working amidst a team of male masons!

A tough start in life

Denise’s childhood wasn’t easy and this simply made her more determined to improve her future. While growing up Denise shared a small mud hut in Lira with her mum, nine brothers and two sisters. Her father had died from an AIDS-related illness many years earlier.

The Akech family are subsistence farmers manage to grow enough to eat once or twice a day. Water wasn’t easy to come by and Denise and her sisters would walk six miles a day for water.

Denise grew up during the war and her family were forced to live in a camp for displaced people for five years. During this time Denise and her family constantly feared for their safety and struggled to find enough food to eat. Clean water was virtually non-existent, disease was rife and there was no access to healthcare or housing. Denise went to school in the camp but because of all the disruption in her life she only managed to finish her primary education at the age of 14.

Desperate for change

It was against this backdrop that Denise joined Kira Farm Development Centre. She was determined to amass all the skills she could in the time that she had. She was also keen to challenge the gender stereotype of girls needing to depend on others to survive.

When she graduated from Kira Farm Denise began looking for work and discovered a bungalow in her area that needed painting.

With the confidence she had acquired at Kira Farm Denise put herself forward for the positon and managed to win the contract – something she never would have dreamed possible in the past. The contractor required a skilled painter and decorator so Denise teamed up with another young girl and together they completed the job for a high ranking government official. She had learnt at Kira not to give up easily, even if you don’t possess the exact skills required!

The work took the enterprising pair four weeks to complete and they made a total of £330. Even better, Denise used the opportunity to learn new skills from her workmate, increasing her chances of finding contracts in the future. This is a huge success for a young girl who grew up in such challenging circumstances.

You can support a young person like Denise today!

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