Thursday, 7 April 2011

Giving Back To Society: Liberian Woman Leads The Way In Cosmetology Training

In a white and red uniform, 24-year-old Amie Sawyer crouches over a pair of feet at the Chrisseta Beauty School. The 8th-grade dropout is among the thirty students learning to weave hair and give pedicures. For Sawyer, beauty school has become a sort of refuge. 

Christine Seyboe Tour opened the school in 2009 to assist young women in finding a trade that would make them self-sufficient. Tour developed her skills as a refugee during Liberia’s long civil war.
“I couldn’t find my way. I want to be somebody, to help myself for tomorrow,” Sawyer says.
Continued Sawyer: “I could not afford to pay my school fees, but Ms. Tour told me that I can get on her scholarship and do the courses along with the other students. Since I entered this school, Ms. Tour has been teaching me professional ethics. Not only she teaches us ethics, but she can advise us everyday how to do the right things.”

Tall and full-bodied with an engaging smile, Tour fled Liberia in 1990 at age 11 with her parents. Her father died on the way to a refugee camp in Ivory Coast, where Tour and her ailing mother spent two years before relocating to the Buduburam Camp in Ghana.

A high school graduate, Tour lacked the funds to attend college, so she found work cleaning floors at a beauty salon on the outskirts of the camp. The salon owner made her an apprentice in cosmetology, and after three years, Tour decided to open her own school, the first of its kind in the refugee camp.

“I saw the level of desperation in the camp and women’s financial dependency on men. I didn’t want to sleep with a man just to be able to buy myself food,” she says.  

Over three years she trained approximately 500 people in the art of beauty. “At the camp, people respected skills. People wanted to come back home with a skill,” she says.

The school’s success enabled Tour to care for her mother and move to a better house, and to fulfill a desire to help fellow Liberians. “I was able to reach out and help someone and that is what I want to do for young women in Liberia,” she says.

Tour was repatriated to Liberia by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees in 2008, and the following year, owned her business near where she lives in Monrovia’s Sinkor neighborhood.

Married with two children, the salon owner’s husband Patrick Tour says his wife is inspired to help others. “Many times my wife thought she couldn’t do it, I was there telling her you can and I always see the joy in her in helping other people. I’m her mentor helping her to impact on other people’s lives, it makes me more encourage to do it because I like to see her happy,” Mr. Tour says.  Ms. Tour currently rents the one-floor building on 9th Street in Sinkor, but dreams of owning her own place with dorms attached for students who come from outside Monrovia.
A graduate of U.S. bank Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Women, a business training program for women in developing countries, Tour says she instills business ethics in lessons on giving a massage or treating hair. She offers 10 students of each class of 30 a full scholarship to the school, which attracts young women who depend on the streets to survive.

“If you see on the streets here, there are a lot of girls that are on the streets, they don’t have anything to live on, so it’s my hope and dream they can come here and be empowered,” she says.

Edwina D. Vakun-Lincoln, Liberia’s 10,000 Women program manager, says Tour was very serious during her four-month training. “There is no way I will forget Christine, because she was one of those ladies who would be there at the training program and made everybody knows she was there. If she was absent, everyone will know. Her life, her business life showed it all,” Lincoln says.

Tour was chosen to represent 10,000 Women in Washington D.C. for International Women’s Day in March this year, where she met First Lady Michelle Obama and former First Lady Laura Bush. “I think they saw that I was giving back to my society and interested in improving other people’s lives,” she says. Mrs. Obama told her “If you educate a girl, you educate a nation.”

Tour’s students say they are learning skills they can build a career upon. “If you’re a cosmetologist, you’re self-employed. Your future’s is in your own hands,” says Josephine Fallah, a prospective graduate and an accounting and economics student at the University of Liberia. “I am working currently in a salon in Mamba Point, and everyone always calling me when customers come, because they think I know the job well. It’s all because Ms. Tour who thought me well. I’m happy for that, and thanks to her,” Fallah says.

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