Women refugees turn hair styling skills into a women group business
“My mother was a hairdresser and she is the one who showed me how to braid, that’s how I got interested in hairdressing.” At just nine years old, Joyce Ozua was already learning how to braid hair by observing how her mother styled hair working as a hairdresser back in Congo. Now in her mid-twenties, she too earns a living working as a hairdresser at a small hair salon in Arua town in northwestern Uganda. Together with other women refugees they set up the hair salon business, after receiving formal training on hairdressing and a start-up kit for the business through a skills development and entrepreneurship training project, facilitated by the Uganda programme of Action Africa Help International with funding from Enabel the Belgian Development Agency.
Joyce arrived in Uganda in 2004 fleeing violence in her village brought about by war that broke out in the eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo. At first, she was settled at IMVEPI refugee settlement in the northeastern part of Arua district but later relocated to Rhino camp, another refugee settlement in the district in northwestern Uganda. Eventually, she settled down with a Ugandan man and bore him three children, two girls now aged 9 and 7 years old and a boy who is still a toddler. To better cope with the difficulties they were experiencing raising a family in a refugee camp, they relocated to Ediofe, a semirural area of Arua town that is the commercial center of the district.
While in Arua Joyce continued to put her hair styling skills to good use through jobs she got at some hair salons in Arua town. Then one day she heard about the training opportunity through an advertisement in the local media channels, which she applied for and got selected. Over some four months Joyce and other trainees were taught advanced hair styling techniques and trained on how to run small business as a group. For two months afterwards, they were also attached to various hair salons to be apprenticed into the trade. Upon completing the training, they received certification from Flamingo Technical Institute, a vocational and technical training institute located in Ediofe, which is also a partner in the skills development and entrepreneurship training project.
To get started in business Joyce and two other women refugees who successfully completed the training grouped to set up a small hair salon in Ediofe. The project assisted them with the start by providing a start-up kit with various equipment for hair styling including hair dryers, combs, rollers, and scissors. Together they run the business pooling the money they make from hairdressing to cover expenditure on hair products, electricity consumption and rent for the business premises. They share the remainder of the pooled money equally among themselves, after settling all expenses at the end of every month.
Most of the share of money Joyce earns from the business is used up meeting the needs of her family. Her husband is currently unemployed as he is still pursuing studies, and is unable to contribute much to the needs of their home. Their two daughters attend government schooling that Joyce pays for with the money she earns from the business, limiting spend on other household needs. So, Joyce still receives food rations whenever it is provided, to enable her deal with her responsibilities to her family. “Back in Congo we got by okay with the little we could bring in, but here in Uganda life is much more difficult especially because I’m taking care of most of the needs of my family.” Despite the difficulties Joyce is determined to continue with the business. The group expects to include two more women once they successfully complete their training, so that they can also bring more customers to the salon to add to their earnings.
The skills development and entrepreneurship training project is an intervention under the European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF) that focuses on increasing access to quality skills development through training, scholarships, entrepreneurial skills and start-up kits for refugees and host communities in coordination with Uganda Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES) – aligned with the National Skilling Uganda strategy of tackling limited formal employment opportunities and barriers to personal development and increased livelihoods in three districts in northwestern Uganda. The project contributes to achieving SDG number 2 which supports interventions in food and incomes security targeting the most vulnerable individuals and groups.