Written by Carol Pigat, ONE Italy Youth Ambassador
Salon N49 is an orange building on the busy Kira Road in Kampala. Every day, something important takes place here: women’s economic empowerment.
In Uganda, girls face a systemic problem. After completing vocational hairdressing courses, graduates must get work experience — but they are typically expected to pay for it.
Salon N49 works to bridge the gap between the completion of a vocational course and becoming employed by training women whilst also covering their basic needs during their one-year work experience placement and helping them to find a permanent position at the end.
I spoke with Jovia, a nail technician, and Harriet, a hairdresser, to learn more about how Salon N49 is empowering them to go after their dreams.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
J: I’m Ugandan and grew up in Kampala. I’m the eldest child in a family of 8. I’m 20 years old
H: I’m 20 years old, I come from a village in the east of Uganda. I arrived in Kampala 3 years ago to go to the vocational training school.
What is daily life like in your home communities?
J: My family is not rich, life is not easy, and we struggle to survive. For me, my workplace is a community and I love my workplace.
H: I only have one parent, my mum, and she is 60 years old. She helped me pay my school fees and helped me meet my needs when I didn’t have a job
Tell us a little bit about the importance of hairdressing in your community.
J: The hair style depends on the person. Some girls keep their hair natural because they are used to it and it is easier to manage. In schools, they don’t allow girls to have long hair so when you are finally free to decide you are usually used to short and natural hair, so some women decide not to change. I’m waiting for my hair to grow because I want it long and natural!
H: In Uganda, hairdressing is important. Hairdressing is not a really expensive thing so also if you are part of the lower class you can afford it. In my village, girls prefer to keep their hair short and natural because it is easier to manage. When you work outside, go to the garden and work a lot short hair is easier.
What skills are involved in your work?
J: For me, it is customer care. In school, we study customer care but putting it into practice is different. I was confident before but now it’s growing each day. Being a nail technician means that clients put their trust in you — sometimes they arrive with bad nails and my job is to make them perfect. In that moment they believe in me, I feel I am trusted by clients.
H: I also think customer care is the most important thing. I’ve learned how to be social and this job helped me to understand how I can manage my own salon in the future. I’ve also started to better understand the products we use in the salon. I will use this knowledge when I open my own salon one day.
How will this training course impact your future?
J: Working here, you train your body and your mind to new things. Working at Salon N49 provides me with food, a place to sleep and a salary. Because of this, I can help my family and still feel free to do and buy what I need. After one year with Salon N49 you gain much more than an education! For this reason, we always want to do our best because after one year we have a lot.
H: I save the salary I get from this work because I don’t have to use it for food or accommodation. Now, I can save money for my future, maybe to open my own salon!
What do you want other people to know about Salon N49?
J: Salon N49 is a project of women working for women. Our goals and result will be used to help other women and we are happy when other women succeed. We are really empowering women not only economically but in a more general way too. Salon N49 is the reality of women empowering women.
H: After I finished at the vocational training school I was in the village without a job but Salon N49 helped me. Now I am here, learning new things, improving myself and earning money. I’m very happy with Salon N49, they helped me move from what I was to what I am. I see changes in myself every day and I think they will continue to help me in the future.
*Answers have been edited for clarity.