Many people attribute their failures in life to having a difficult childhood. However, instead of remaining in the dumps, some people have capitalised on their hardships and picked up the sticks life threw at them to build a stature that has become a helping hand to others. Dorothy Akende is one of such.

Let’s meet her!

Tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Dorothy Akende. I am a Tiv girl from Benue state, and I attended Nasarawa State University, where I studied Religious Studies. I am in my 30s and work as a community development worker.

Let’s talk about your childhood. What was it like?

I grew up in a family of nine with seven children; four girls and three boys. Well, it was in a low-income community where sticking together as a family was how we survived.

When did you decide that your current career is what you want to do?

I grew up in a family of nine. When I was about nine years old, my parents divorced, and my dad remarried. My elder sister was about 16 years old. And so, when he remarried, he left the care of the six of us in the hands of my sister. She had to drop out of secondary school to take care of us. She was hawking soap, doing wholesale work for different companies, and also learnt how to make hair. I learnt how to make hair through her and was also helping her make hair; that was how we could make ends meet.

All six of us were working for people to gain foodstuffs and see how we could support each other because, you know, a hungry lion is an angry lion. Food was a major problem. We were working while my sister supported us by doing all kinds of jobs. Because of her experience, I told her that one day, when I have money, I will help people. And she said you don’t need to have money to help people. That experience led me to found my organisation – the House of Hilkiah foundation – to empower women because I know that if you empower a woman, you empower a nation. That’s the main reason why I chose what I am doing today – to support women because they are the ones that know how to hold families well. So, that’s the story of how I started my foundation.

What do you think has been instrumental to your level of success?

Well, it’s not about me. It’s about the people that I am serving. That is what drives me every day. Even when I am having a bad day and want to give up because things are not going the way I want, it dawns on me, “this is not about you, Dorothy. It’s about the people you are serving.” That is the instrument to my success – that it’s about the people I am serving, and that they matter because I know that in my community, that girl who is dreaming of becoming a doctor, a lawyer, I am providing a platform to allow them to succeed.

What opportunities in your career/business have you leveraged to reach this level?

The community where I come from is underrepresented out there, and because of that, people want to know what I am doing. I leverage this to talk about my community a lot. And this gets people interested to know who I am and what I am doing.

What bias have you dealt with in your career/business, and how did you overcome them?

Dorothy AkendeI went through a lot of discrimination first because I am a woman and then coming from a marginalised tribe. It was difficult because people always asked, “Who is she? Which tribe is she from?”

Also, I have had to deal with men asking me to compromise before getting what I want. But, I always stand my ground. If I had compromised, most of the men who have seen me would be like, “she did this to get to where she is now.” But, they can’t do that because they know I worked very hard to get to where I am today. I had to endure sexual advances. There was this one man that said he was going to help, but he didn’t do that because I refused to go to bed with him. I had to remind myself that I am not competing with anyone because it’s not about me but the people I serve. So, if I start compromising today, what will I tell that young girl who faces the same thing out there? So, because I have not compromised myself, it gives me the boldness to tell young girls to be true to themselves and be seen for who they are and not what people can get from them.

Not compromising has helped me earn the respect of men. Some of them tell me, “Dorothy, you know what you want.” Some are shocked that I am still doing what I am doing despite all their advances and threats because it’s really about consistency and passion. They’ve seen that the passion is there, and they’ve seen that the consistency is there. Now, they are ready to help me.

I have gone through a lot of bias in this work, but I keep reminding myself that I have something to offer to the world and my community; that has kept me. I always remind myself, “Dorothy, even if you can’t find yourself in this crowd, you can form your crowd, be your crowd. The sky is big enough to accommodate everybody. So, even if there is no seat at the table, you can always draw your chair to the table.” So, I keep putting myself out there so people can see my potential and not my face or physical endowments. I let them always see what I have to offer. I am grateful to God that I’ve been able to face these challenges and overcome them.

What do you see yourself doing in the next ten years?

I see myself doing what I am still doing in the next ten years, but on a bigger scale. By then, we will have facilities that will give young girls the platform to become who they want to become, succeed, and thrive. I see myself impacting more lives, and my fulfilment is to see people following through with their dreams and achieving much just because of my impact.

How does your current job connect to your ambitions for the future?

My ambition for the future is to provide an enabling environment for everyone to succeed irrespective of their tribe, religion or gender. My utmost desire is to see every young girl achieve their dream. And my community development work connects to that ambition. Like I have always said, it’s not about me but about the people I am serving. I want to live a life that when one day I’m not here, I know that I have made an impact in someone’s life, that because of me, someone has gotten the opportunity to pursue their dreams. So, this work connects to my ambitions for the future.

What is the one thing you want everyone to know about you?

People ask me how I get the strength to do what I do consistently. I am a believer. I believe in God so much. If you want to come around me, you have to believe in my principle, and my principle is that I believe so much in God. Whatever I want to do, I always get up at midnight to do my midnight prayers and get to talk to God about it. I don’t harm people. I don’t sabotage people’s work. There’s what we call karma; I believe whatever you do to anybody will come back to you. I know that very well, and I try to avoid it. I don’t believe in sabotaging because I also believe that I will get what I need when the time is right.

Another thing I always tell people is if you want to come around me, be ready to be on the move because I am always on the move. Whatever I want to do, I am always putting my 100% into it, and I am consistent. I know I am still learning, but this is who I am.

Again, I take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves. If I go somewhere, I already know what I want to do and who I need to meet, so once I get there, my mind is already open to opportunities…like even the smallest person in the room that I know will be relevant to what I want to do, I am always open. When most people ask, “Dorothy, how do you do it?” I tell them I always take advantage of opportunities. I can travel somewhere to meet one person who will support my course and work.

Another thing, if I need something from, say Nigeria, I don’t put my mind that President Buhari will be the one to do it for me. I don’t trust one person or organisation to help me achieve my goals; that would be limiting God. I always tell God to bring the right person to help me get to the desired level in whatever project I handle. That is one thing that has helped me stand tall. I hope someone learns from this that a man can take you to a level, but God can take you all the way.

Thank you for chatting with me.

Dorothy Akende is a Grassroots Development Champion (GDC) with DO-Take Action and also the founder of the House of Hilkiah Foundation. Dorothy understands the importance of providing enabling platforms to encourage, empower and inspire women and girls to greatness. Her passion led her to partner with GTBank for a community project under DO-Take Action, to install 10 grinding machines, empower 10 women and increase the economic productivity of 3000 women in Adeke community.

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