Fontes Foundation’s Single Mothers Programme (SMP) has trained over 100 women since we introduced it two years ago. The programme aims to provide market-ready skills to young mothers who constitute almost 75% of out of school youth in Uganda [Bakalu 2013]. It provides training in a variety of skills including cooking, hairdressing, soap making, jewellery making and mushroom growing. The hairdressing course has been the most popular course, which has drawn many women to Fontes Youth Centre. This trend prompts the question – why is hairdressing such a sought-after skill?
African women or black women, in general, have a complex relationship with their hair. This topic has been explored in depth in various documentaries, including “Good Hair” by comedian Chris Rock, which examined the billion-dollar industry in the US that caters to black women in particular. Uganda is no different, the business of weaves, wigs, and braids is enormous, and it employs a considerable number of young women, especially those without an education. There are entire streets and areas designated for hair in the capital of Kampala. You will find shops selling hair waves and extensions, and people willing to plait your hair for anything between 20,000 (5 USD) to 200,000 (55 USD) Uganda shillings depending on the style and what is trending.
Recognizing this trend, Fontes decided to focus its SMP programme on training women in hairdressing, especially the kind that did not require salon equipment. In addition to reducing start-up costs, this also challenges the single mothers and encourages them to use their creativity. The versatility of hair in Uganda provides massive opportunities for women in this industry. The cost of setting up is relatively low, and services can even be provided at home. Since the clients always purchase the extensions separately, single mothers can almost start the business without any capital and expect huge returns.
Our twelve-week course provides the Single mothers with at least three different hair-braiding techniques, which will serve them well in this booming hair industry. The informal sector accounts for 58 % of non-agricultural employment in Uganda according to the Skilling Uganda Strategic Plan for 2010-2020 that was recently published by the Ministry of Education. Efforts to formalize this sector has resulted in the recent introduction of a ‘WorkersPass,’ short for workers passport, which accredits youth who have gained and mastered a skill informally. The Directorate of Industrial Training only issues this after exams and testing of the different skills. This has been offered to youth in several trades including hairdressing, tailoring and masonry. As the hair industry is growing in Uganda, more women will be able to make lucrative money out of their hair business including the single mothers that we train at Fontes Youth Centre. This means that the single mothers that graduate from Fontes Youth Centre will have a qualification and a skill set that is recognized by the Ministry of Education.
The SMP programme is a unique course that offers young mothers the opportunity to acquire skill sets that will enable them to establish a micro business that will help support them and their family. As the hair industry is growing rapidly in Uganda, more women are able to make lucrative money out of their hair business, including the single mothers that we train at the youth centre.