The hair salon weaving a future at home
UNICEF and partners are helping young people build a future in their home town through the Czech Republic-supported project to help minors at risk of migration.
Timbuktu – It’s a busy Tuesday afternoon at this small hair salon. Hamsétou paints a client's nails red while other girls wait and chat. "There are those who come for the braids and those who come to talk," she says smiling. In addition to braids and other hair strands, Hamsétou also sells jewellery, shoes and false nails. Now 18 years old, Hamsétou was spotted a year ago by the NGO Terre des Hommes (TDH) mobile team supported by UNICEF. The team had identified her as vulnerable and at risk of migration. "Yes, I was thinking of leaving… When you are poor you have a lot of difficulties in life," she says embarrassed and looking away.
Hamsétou was living in Goundam (85 km from Timbuktu) when she lost both her parents and left her home town to join her aunt Bintou* in Timbuktu. Widowed and a teacher, Bintou struggled to support the five children in her care. However, she insisted on enrolling her niece in school, but Hamsétou dropped out in the third grade. "I always preferred braids to school," she explains.
"It was my mother who made me want to be a hairdresser," she says, her eyes shining as she recalls her deceased mother. "I used to braid here at the front door of the house, when a woman came and asked me questions about my situation and then she offered me support," says Hamsétou. The woman Mariam is part of the TDH mobile team. "Our mobile team goes several times a week to places where people migrate, such as bus stations, and they also go to meet vulnerable children who are reported to us as being at risk of migration," says Baba Samber Maiga, technical support officer at TDH Timbuktu.
Children who migrate face multiple risks, not only exploitation, violence and abuse, but difficulties during the migration journey, especially due to the security situation.
"Given that she is an orphan, that her aunt is struggling and that she dropped out of school, Hamsétou was in a very vulnerable situation and the mobile team was alerted to her case. The person who contacted us said that the girl was planning to leave in search of a better life.”
With UNICEF's support, Hamsétou was offered an internship in a local hairdresser's salon, followed by training in business management. "I learnt how to welcome a client, how to be friendly and above all how to manage money in the business," she explains, adding that she first learnt to count with her grandmother who ran a small shop at home. After her internship and training, Hamsétou received 120,000 CFA francs (about US $200) to buy equipment and open her salon.
“Children who migrate face multiple risks, not only exploitation, violence and abuse, but difficulties during the migration journey, especially due to the security situation. This is why we are working to prevent children from leaving, through both raising awareness measures but also supporting children, adolescents and young people at risk to stay in their home towns, provided these are safe,” explains Bintou Diallo, child protection officer at UNICEF Timbuktu Field Office.
Working seven days a week, the hairdresser quickly built up a clientele, much to the delight of her family. "I am proud of her, she is the one who helps me today", says Bintou*, sitting in the courtyard of her house, barely 100 metres from Hamsétou's salon. "She braids well," adds Djenaba*, a local client making the young hairdresser blush. What about going abroad? "My priority is business, but I might go to other countries just to buy items for my salon," says Hamsétou with a big smile.
*Names have been changed for protection reasons