Somewhere on the road between Gatanga and Thika lies a very special place. When you spot the grundg-y billboard that indicates the entrance to Wamburu Coffee Factory, you will know you have arrived.
Take the dirt road to the left and once you have passed the kindergarten, make another left into the decaying red gate and you will know you have arrived to Shine on Vocational Center.
At first, it will seem like an empty lot with a tiny house awaiting at the back. But this humble school is responsible for creating a sustainable living and realizing the dreams of hundreds of women and young girls since 2005.
I entered the classroom shily to find the girls taking notes as the teacher, who had just given birth to a baby a few weeks back, explained the textbook information on “sugaring”.
After the class was over, it was time to practice. Each girl grabbed a partner and gave each other a different hairdo.
One of the things you will first notice in Kenya is how well groomed the women are. A bad hair day is inexistent for them because they will spend hours (and salaries!) every week at the hairdresser.
The hairdos of Kenyan women are anything but simple. Kikuyu women really struggle to grow long hair, and will often get extensions sewed onto their short hair and braided afterward – the process takes time, but the results are breathtaking.
Shine On Kenya Vocational Center was started by my Kenyan friend Maina Wambugu in order to provide an opportunity for 25 women every year to take Hair and Beauty classes as well as dress-making lessons, a vocation that is greatly valued in Kenya’s rural areas.
Aside from the hands-on skills learned at the center, the girls are also taught life skills and are encouraged by a partner organization called Hand in Hand to learn about business and entrepreneurship in order to be able to create and manage their own salons and businesses after graduation.
“These girls come to us, many of who were not able to attend high school. We encourage them to join the center and only a very small fee is charged. They come here and learn for eight months and after that. They begin the course on January and finish in August every year, they graduate in October.”, explained Emmah Wmogo, a project officer at the school. “We set them up for an internship that lasts two months. They gain hands-on experience by working at a local salon. At the end of the course, we give them three certificates: hairdressing and beauty, life skills development and business.”
The girls did not seem to mind my presence much at first, but as soon as I undid my hair and they saw its length – they became extremely interested.
“Is that your real hair?! I am so jealous, us Kikuyu women can never grow hair. It’s a shame”, said Madris, a new student who had just been enrolled two weeks back.
The next thing I knew is my hair was being washed by her and the teacher (which was a real relief as we had been lacking water due to the draught that recently struck Kenya).
At the sight of the scene, the rest of the girls gathered up after my hair was washed and brushed. Next thing I know, I was getting new braids made! The whole process took over two hours!