Precious Rukundo was facing into her final term of second year of secondary school in Drogheda when the first Covid-19 lockdown began, in March 2020. Like other teenagers, she continued her schooling from home and tried to find hobbies to pass the time. With her 15th birthday coming up, she was determined to find some way to celebrate it.
“My mum was at work during the day, and I was at home alone. I love to read, and we had three books about baking, so I opened them up. I then started checking video tutorials online and decided I was going to bake my own birthday cake. I woke up the next day so excited and told my mum I wanted to order baking stuff online.
“I ended up baking a small cake for my birthday – it was vanilla and chocolate with frosting and candles. It wasn’t perfect, but it was perfect for me. And for my first time it was pretty good. I realised I wanted to do more and more of this.”
Sedurida was confident Ireland would offer her daughter a new and better life, but starting over in a new country was difficult for Precious. A shy child, she was bullied at school and at the Mosney direct-provision centre
Precious was 11 when her mother, Sedurida Rukundo, decided they needed to leave their home in Malawi and find a safer life, far from an abusive relationship. With the help of a friend, Sedurida made arrangements to leave with her daughter, and in 2016 the pair arrived in Dublin, where they claimed asylum. After a brief stay at the Balseskin direct-provision centre they were moved to the centre at Mosney, in Co Meath.
“I had no clue what our lives would be like in Ireland,” says Sedurida. “But when we arrived it was the first time I could sleep and didn’t have fear. On the other side, I was afraid because I didn’t know anything about the people [in the Department of Justice] I was giving my personal information to. I was afraid of the unknown.”
Sedurida was confident Ireland would offer her daughter a new and better life, but starting over in a new country was difficult for Precious. A shy child, she was bullied at school and at Mosney.
“I was bullied at school because of my accent. I sounded different and I looked different. I was also bullied in Mosney because I have darker skin when compared with the other kids. The funny thing is there’s so many black people in Mosney, but I just have a darker shade of skin tone. I was really sad and had no friends to talk to. The only friend I did have, I knew she was talking about me behind my back.
“When people told me, ‘You’re too black,’ I never loved myself. I wished I could be like the other kids with lighter skin. I wanted to fix a lot of things about myself. My mum would tell me I was beautiful, but I had all that negativity on my shoulders.”
After the birthday cake I started looking up more videos and recipes. I'd bake cookies, scones and cakes and sent pictures to my home-ec teacher. She sent me videos and recipes and I fell even more in love with baking
Things got slightly better when Precious moved into sixth class with a supportive new teacher. “I wasn’t afraid to talk to her. I will never forget that teacher. She lifted up my self-esteem and gave me confidence.”
In 2018 Precious started secondary school, at Our Lady’s College in Greenhills, Drogheda. She slowly began feeling more settled and made some friends. She also discovered the passion for home economics that helped spark her interest in baking during lockdown.
“It was something to keep me going, so after the birthday cake I started looking up more videos and recipes. I’d bake cookies, scones and cakes and sent pictures to my home-ec teacher. She sent me videos and recipes and I fell even more in love with baking.”
Sedurida quickly noticed her daughter’s culinary talents and enlisted the help of friends to test out some of her recipes. “I was surrounded by positivity and encouragement,” says Precious. “I kept thinking, If I keep this up I could be a celebrity chef one day. We laughed a lot about that, me and my mum.”
In late 2020 Precious set up an Instagram page with photos of her cakes, using the handle @precious._bakes. Orders started to stream in. She continued developing her baking business through her Junior Cert year, and she is now in the final stages of setting up a website. Her mother helps with the administrative side, giving her tips on how to balance the books and save money.
“I’m so proud of her, and people have been really supportive inside Mosney and outside too,” says Sedurida. “She set the goal this summer of making enough to buy an iPhone. And she did it; she saved the money.”
“I also saved enough to buy a professional mixer for my baking,” says Precious.
I'm in a better place, and I don't feel that negativity around me any more. I have two friends now who I can trust and who love me for being me. That's all I ever wanted
Precious says she feels more comfortable in her own skin than ever before. “I’m in a better place, and I don’t feel that negativity around me any more. I have two friends now who I can trust and who love me for being me. That’s all I ever wanted. I feel like a brand-new person.”
After school, Precious hopes to study at St Angela’s College in Sligo, where she can specialise in home economics, baking and cake design. She dreams of opening her own bakery.
The mother and daughter duo, who are originally from Uganda, have spent five years in direct provision and are hoping to secure leave to remain in Ireland. Sedurida, who works for a flower company, often feels disheartened when other families come and go quickly in Mosney.
She has struggled with depression during her time in Ireland but says the support she has received from the Rape Crisis Centre and Spirasi rehabilitation centre for victims of torture has been a huge help. She also feels cheered by her daughter’s progress and happiness.
“I’ve created a special bond with my daughter here. I love the relationship we have. Every moment I have with her I feel at peace. And the comments and reviews she’s got for her baking have been outstanding. I’m so proud of my baby. And even though we have waited a long time for an answer, we are happy.”