An exciting thing happened at Kwagala’s Hairdressing Academy today. After finally mastering a series of complex styling techniques, our students advanced to the much anticipated lesson: bridal makeup, hair and accessories. Sixteen-year-old Julie was rewarded for being top of the class by playing the role of the bride. The girls crowded around Aunty Namale, our hairdressing instructor, paying close attention to each movement of her hands as she sculpted an ornate hairstyle then applied the customary makeup. Julie blushed under all the attention. When the styling was finished Julie changed into full bridal regalia and the transformation was complete. When she re-emerged into the salon, the girls began cheering, playing drums, singing ecstatically, and parading Julie around the yard to show off their handiwork. Pure joy bubbled out of Kwagala’s courtyard – surely those peering through the fence thought that it was a real wedding.
In some ways, our girls are just like any gaggle of rowdy teenagers, but more often than not it’s easy to forget they’re still minors. With an air of responsibility that’s rare at their age, the girls are working hard to start their own businesses, raise their children, and earn modest incomes to accomplish both. The bridal lesson brought about something not often seen – a collective, childlike happiness fully eclipsing any trace of pain or vulnerability. It was in the midst of the cheers, the twirling skirts and the hugs that I realized today was about much more than the practical skills the girls have acquired. A fundamental shift was occurring.
Before coming to Kwagala Project, all of our girls were told they were useless. Now, their teachers and mentors are not only telling them they’re valuable, the girls actually believe it because they’re actualizing their potential. Seeing Julie adorned as a beautiful bride and being the ones responsible shifted their hopes for the future into more concrete realties. They saw not only Julie, but also themselves as worthy and beloved brides, hairdressers and valuable and capable women!
- Jessica Haring