Before joining the Skills for Life Project, 25-year old Grace Lotipu Ekai used to sell firewood and charcoal to refugees within the Kakuma camp. She would start her day at 5 am, head to the collection point then walk around the camp for approximately 15 kilometers each day looking for customers. From this business, she earned an average of CHF 40 a month. Being the breadwinner of her home, she struggled to spread her thin income to attend to her family’s needs.
In 2014, she enrolled for masonry training courtesy of the Skills for Life project and was placed in a learning group consisting of 24 trainees. She was pleased that her group was heterogenous – she was amongst four other female trainees.
Unfortunately, I never went to school, and for me, I saw this as a hindrance to an improved life. When I heard about the Skills for Life training, I pictured myself attaining skills and knowledge that I could otherwise never afford. I chose masonry as I wanted to do something that would make me stand out.
As part of the practical training sessions, Grace’s learning group constructed a classroom for their local school, gabions and a pit latrine at the local dispensary. With proof of her newly acquired skills, Grace embarked on looking for casual jobs with road construction companies. Being a woman in a male-dominated field was quite challenging. Her friends tried to talk her into changing her career and venturing into what was culturally acceptable for women. Grace held on to her belief in a brighter future and pressed on.
“When my friends suggested that I change my job, I kept thinking about going back to hawking firewood and charcoal, and I could not see myself doing that anymore. It was very taxing and unrewarding. Even while I was a casual worker in masonry, I was earning around CHF 100 in a month. This was way more money than I was earning before. Why would I even consider going back to that?”
With the job, her family can now live a more satisfying life. She does not have to worry so much about attending to her children’s needs. She pays school fees with ease and can cloth and provide a balanced diet for them.
In 2017, Grace was fortunate enough to be employed by a Chinese road construction company as a mason earning a monthly salary of CHF 190. She still works there today and is part of a team of 10. As the only female, she came into the job focused, ready to work and grow her experience. Her team members have been quite supportive and do not bring up the difference in gender nor treat her any differently. They have even begun training her on welding and wiring.
“I would love my fellow women to be open-minded and not fear going into employment that is deemed as male-focused. We are strong and hardworking, and when we put our minds to it, we can achieve so much. We have a stronger voice to demand what is rightfully ours when we are more in numbers.”
Skills for Life is currently in its third phase of implementation. It seeks to strengthen the income-generating capabilities of youth from the host and refugee communities in Kakuma by enhancing their technical, financial, life and literacy skills. Skills for Life is financed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and implemented by Swisscontact.