Photo: Klaus Bo

Two weeks of training by DRC gave Stephanie a new future

16 year old Stephanie Rutikanga fled from her home in DR Congo and now calls Kayole in Nairobi her new home. Two weeks training by Danish Refugee Council has made all the difference and life bearable.
 
 

The small salon in Kayole in Eastern Nairobi is decorated in purple with silver graffiti and the happy, drumming beats are flowing in a high tempo from the speakers.

"Sasa. Welcome, how are you?," the owner Jessie Wanjiku says.

Behind her, Stephanie Rutikanga is washing the hair of a client, who is getting her hair straightened. She smiles and waves. Before she can talk, the client needs to get her hair just right.

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"She is such a good girl. Very honest and hard working. She needed help and of course I helped," says the boss about her young employee.

A little later, Stephanie smiles and talks about how she wound up at 'Pretty Lady Hair & Beauty Salon here in Kenya's capital.

Fled after rape

She is from the Eastern part of DR Congo, a region that has been plagued by conflict. It was a Sunday, she recalls. Her parents were in church.

"Some men came and broke into our home. They raped me and my sister. We fled soon after."

They did not look back. Left without their belongings and without their parents. Stephanie does not know, what happened to the people who were in church. She would rather not think about it.

Stephanie wound up in Nairobi with her young nephew and her sister Esther. The women, who helped her, she calls 'mother'. She also calls her boss Jessie 'mother'. But in spite of the great help from the mothers, it was hard to get by, when the sisters got to Nairobi.

"We lived in the ghetto and it was very hard to manage and to eat."

One organization helped with a month’s rent, but Stephanie needed to be able to get by for more than a month. A friend referred her to a Kenyan organization, who recommend her for the two weeks vocational training conducted by the Danish Refugee Council (DRC).

Training builds on existing skills

The two week vocational training is designed to build on existing skills that refugees have, says Jackline Mwinzi, who is in charge of the trainings at DRC's office in Kayole in Nairobi. So far this year, 53 people have completed a course in this part of town alone.

"It gives them the opportunity to improve their skills and enables them to find work or to create a business of their own," Jackline Mwinzi says.

The courses offered under the vocational training alongside scholarships for universities and colleges are a vital part of DRC's livelihoods work in Nairobi. It is about giving refugees in the city - and in other parts of Kenya - the opportunity to provide for themselves and to become self-reliant, so they are not dependent on organizations or others for charity.

Business is expanding

Stephanie learnt a whole range of things during her two week course. Among them was applying henna tattoos and nail art as well as making soap and bleach. She laughs modestly at the question about if she was not frightfully busy during those two weeks.

After the course, she went job hunting and met Jessie in a market. When Stephanie told her about her long list of skills, Jessie gave her a job in the salon on the spot.  

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"It has made a big difference in our lives. Today we live in a rented apartment and can get by without big problems," Stephanie says.

But the salon is not the only source of income for this young lady. She has gotten a contract with a local school, where she supplies them with soap and bleach every month. This gives her the opportunity to save a little.

"God willing and with the support I get, I hope to one day open my own salon."

She has not thought much about how her future salon will look. She gazes into the air and thinks about it for a moment.

"I don't care how it looks, as long as it is there," she says.