Akirachix was established six years ago by group of young women in STEM careers to address the glaring discrepancy between males and females in technology. They currently do this via four channels; a nine month diploma course, outreach to girls high schools, a kids programme, and community building. They have graduated 89 girls in the last six years.
I had a chat with Judith Owigar, Co-Founder, formerly President, and, currently the Operations Director, on what she has learnt so far, her best experiences, and what it takes to work with young girls.
Believing in your Vision: You will always have detractors. So, you might as well continue doing what you are doing. Believing in your vision means you do it even when people do not believe in it. For instance, when we began, we didn’t have as much support as we do now but it is because we believed in the vision(that we are here now). I try not to focus on what people are saying and stick to what I believe in.
Being Present: From my experience, the most important thing when dealing with young girls is that they understand you are present and accessible. You need to create an environment where they can tell you what is going on in their lives. Especially us, who are dealing with girls from low income areas; they have many things going on in their lives. We have to help them deal with these issues. Of the times students dropped out from our classes, it wasn’t because the course was hard, it was because of something else that was going on in their lives.
Listening: You need to listen to them. One of the things I realized is I do not have most of the solutions to address what they are facing. That was a big wake up call. Sometimes, they just need somebody to listen, to know that there is somebody in their team. Of course, where we can, we try to help. Where we cannot, we see what else we can do. But, sometimes, we do not have a solution to the problem. I also think that it is important for them to see our honesty, that we don’t have a solution to all problems. It teaches them we are real, and that you don’t have to have an answer to everything.
Being Honest: You need to be honest with yourself and with them. Because sometimes, you need to give them tough love. You have to actually tell them,“where you are going is not working. You need to stop that”.
A Healthy Amount of Respect: We should have a certain amount of respect for each other. That is something that I expect (from the students). I feel that when I accord you respect, it should be reciprocated.
Aspire to Something Greater:You need to encourage them to aspire to be something greater than themselves. Your dream needs to be bigger than you. That is something I encourage.
Reach Out to More: We see that many women from other places in Kenya want to be part of our programme. However, you need to be in Nairobi to do that. Because of this, we want to expand to different parts of the country.
We are also looking for partnerships with people in different countries in Africa who share our vision and can build something like Akirachix.