From university to carpentry: Building new realities for women in Sierra Leone.

Whether its studying at university or pursuing a career in carpentry, women can do anything they set their mind to, says Zainab Kargbo.

A few years ago whilst at university, we were discussing how to get a job after graduation. My classmates talked about how to get jobs in air-conditioned offices (ideally with huge salaries) but I’ve always wanted to be self-employed. I began to ask myself what I could do to create a job for myself, and for other people. I kept thinking about this, until one day I decided to look for ways to learn a skill that, in Sierra Leone, is not usually learned by women. 

I completed my BSc in Business Administration. During my graduation ceremony, my late father threw money at me when I was on stage, as a sign of appreciation – I was one of the few young girls in my community who was able to get a degree. I gathered up that money and used it to get tools and a few boards of wood. Then I swapped lectures for Youtube.

I watched videos on making tufted beds for a month, and then I made one.

I told my classmates, relatives and friends that I was going into carpentry. People didn’t even believe me at first, and when they did they were generally unsupportive. But in the midst of all of this, I held strong. I had made up my mind. I wanted to change the narratives, perceptions and the traditional ways of looking at things. Most people hold strong beliefs that certain skills are for men, especially carpentry. But I knew I could do it, and more importantly I wanted to do it. 

One Saturday morning, I went to town to get the items needed to make the bed. then I got to work. People from my area came in huge numbers to watch me. They were there to find out if women could do carpentry and if I could really learn everything I needed to do it from YouTube. It took me two days to finish that first bed. When I finished, people had the answers to their questions and began to give me all kinds of praise and  encouragement. I became the talk of the area, and was invited to forums to talk about my decision to become a carpenter. Institutions hired me to inspire other young people. Umaru Fofanah, a journalist from the BBC, came to interview me! I began to go to places I had never imagined, and meet people I never thought I’d meet. 

People from my area came in huge numbers to watch me. They were there to find out if women could do carpentry.

I decided to establish a mini carpentry centre in my community making beds, tables and other furniture. Sierra Leone has a high unemployment rate, especially for young people. Every year, lots of young people graduate from universities and colleges across the country, but the majority find it challenging to secure jobs. I am now employing three boys, and I pay them after every project we complete. I have also taken on  three girls from the street,  two of whom were commercial sex workers, and they are quickly developing their skills and changing their lives for the better.

Now lots of young people, particularly marginalised girls see me as an example, and want to join me, but I’m unable to take them on due to my limited space and resources. My next step is to look for a donor to support me to secure a place where young people can come and acquire skills to start their own businesses. I want to make sure that other young girls know that their future is theirs to build. 

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From university to carpentry: Building new realities for women in Sierra Leone.

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