on the job


- As told to Brodie Lancaster

Growing up in Kenya was really cool. I was young when we moved there, to a camp set up to help people transition from war-torn countries (in my case, South Sudan) to getting a sponsorshi­p to go overseas. My mum had eight kids and I’m number five. We'd finish school around midday and go home to help with cooking, or carrying water. We went back and forth between the refugee camp and the capital city, Nairobi – we were pretty much always on the move.

They called me the active child – but in the camp, only boys got the opportunit­y to play soccer. My mum enrolled me in a school in Nairobi so I could get into the different sports they offered. Then, in 2006, we left Kenya and came to Australia – it wasn't until I went to school in Perth that I learnt there were classes where I could play sport. It was a part of school I really enjoyed. I joined a local mixed soccer team and soccer just took over my life. It became a part of me.

Around then, I discovered AFL. The West Coast Eagles were on fire, so I became a supporter. Years later, when I started playing football in 2013, there were already establishe­d teams for women. I played for a multicultu­ral team; I was the only girl on ground. I really enjoyed the dynamic of how a footy team works. I got picked for the state team, and the future stars of AFL Women’s – like Chelsea Randall, Kara Donnellan and Kirby Bentley – were my teammates. Eventually, I was drafted to Fremantle for the inaugural AFLW season. Leaving family behind and coming to Melbourne by myself to start a new journey with a different club was scary, but at the same time, really exciting. I’d heard amazing stuff about Richmond’s women’s developmen­t program. Sometimes women find themselves feeling like outsiders in footy, but when I'm there, I'm just part of Richmond Football Club and everything they do.

I’m so passionate about developing the next generation of multicultu­ral female footballer­s, which is what I do now in my full-time job as multicultu­ral developmen­t officer at AFL Victoria. I work on a number of community-based programs that are essential for getting to the roots of diverse communitie­s and telling them footy’s for everyone. We can see that being reflected in the game, in how many diverse groups are now playing at the state and national levels. It’s really exciting.

There are a lot of barriers to engaging different communitie­s. Often people don’t want to go to training because it’s scary and they don’t know anyone there. I was lucky to have a very supportive mum who could pay for my sporting fees growing up. She knew how important it was for me. Now, we fund these programs so the kids can just come and play for free, and I’m glad I get to do that for other people.

One is called the All Nations program. To join, children under 15 either need to be born overseas, or have at least one parent who was. We focus on African communitie­s and people from non-english background­s. The kids go to a series of camps, and when they play games we invite talent coordinato­rs to come. We listen to what their needs are, and might do a profession­al developmen­t session where we look at employment or talk about mental health. We’ve gone through the same struggles as these kids. I want them to say, “I want to do what she did!”

I’ve always been really lucky; I declare what I want, then I get it. If you just speak up, people know what you want to do, then if an opportunit­y pops up later they’ll think, “What about Akec? She said she wanted this.” Leadership is not just leading others; it’s also about leading your own journey.

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