Beacon of hope for vulnerable Ruaraka teen mums

Ms Petronala Wariah, the founder and instructor at Nala Trendy Hair and Beauty College in Ruaraka, Nairobi where teenage mothers learn the art of hair and beauty for free, or at a minimal fee.

Photo credit: Pool | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Petronala Wariah, the founder of Nala Trendy Hair and Beauty College, Ruaraka, offers hair and beauty lessons to teenage mothers.
  • She trains at least 25 girls annually.
  • Most of the girls are from challenged backgrounds where families are disintegrated or they are just too needy to complete their education.

At the heart of Ruaraka in Nairobi, is a unique beauty college. When visits, we find about 15 girls in a classroom. Within the room are babies too; others are asleep in the next room. This is no ordinary classroom; once in a while a baby wakes up and the mother has to go breastfeed them back to sleep.

Petronala Wariah, the instructor at Nala Trendy Hair and Beauty College, has learnt to be patient with the girls, offering them and their babies all the love they need.

Ms Wariah, 36, is the founder and director of the institution, where she offers hair and beauty lessons to teenage mothers.

In the last 13 years, she has trained at least 25 vulnerable teenage mothers annually, after which she places them in other salons for internship or employment, giving them hope for a brighter future.

“Many girls have passed through my hands. Though I cannot precisely tell their exact numbers, they are more than 300,” says Ms Wariah.

Most of them have gone ahead to start their salon businesses, while others are in employment.

“Most of the girls are from challenged backgrounds where families are disintegrated or they are just too needy to complete their education. They drop out of school and along the way they get pregnant. I meet them through people who know about my work in the community,” Ms Wariah shares.

Majority can’t afford the monthly college fee of Sh3,000 paid by regular students for the course that lasts six months.

“Some come here with nothing, while others pay whatever they have, and this is neither regular nor guaranteed. We are here to empower them from that helpless state to actualise their dreams,” she adds.

Empowers youth

At the end of the training each girl earns a certificate.

“I supervise their internships. I have to see that they are competent enough to apply what they have learnt,” she says. 

Ms Wariah started small but due to her passion to train vulnerable girls and teen mothers, the institution has continued to grow with the support of the Kenya Community Development Foundation (KCDF) grants, which are implemented by The Youth Congress (TYC), a non-governmental organisation that empowers the youth in Ruaraka Constituency.

KCDF is a nationwide development grant-making organisation that supports communities to develop solutions to their everyday challenges in a sustainable manner.

In 2017, KCDF supported TYC to provide entrepreneurship and employment skills to 100 young men and women from the constituency and Ms Wariah was one of the beneficiaries. “They got me the first five dummies and two new hair driers, which enabled us to meet the modern standards of doing hair,” she points out.

In May last year at the height of Covid-19 pandemic, business was low. Ms Wariah and her two assistants decided to expand and set up a barber section to cushion them from the losses.

“I applied for a grant from TYC and they supported me with a shaving machine and seats,” she says.

Ms Wariah’s work in supporting teen mothers is one of the eight youth-led enterprises within Ruaraka, Baba Dogo, Marurui and Korogocho that benefitted from a post-Covid grant from KCDF last year. The grant is meant to support youth and support more girls.

“I have identified another room because I need more space for the girls, but paying for it is a challenge,” she says. There are more girls who want to enrol, she adds, but I neither have the space, nor the capacity to accommodate them and their children.

Though many other girls are keen on studying hair and beauty, majority lack the money and a place to stay. Some stay with relatives and sometimes disappear in the middle of the course.

Gender-based violence

“When I trace them, I discover that their relative kicked them out. Others even stay with their equally young husbands,” Ms Wariah explains, adding that the girls, in some instances, have had to contend with gender-based violence and family disintegration.

Though happy with the training programme so far, Ms Wariah says access to affordable hair products and dummies to train the girls is a challenge.

“One dummy can only be utilised by one girl. The girls cannot afford them, so I have to ensure they are available,” she says.

Apart from training the girls, Ms Wariah also counsels them. One of the modules in the course is life skills; this enables the girls to embrace their unique situations and cope with life.

“I encourage them to even start their businesses from roadside kibandas where they can do hair, nails and earn a living,” she says passionately.

Ms Wariah, the fifth born in a family of nine children, was born and raised in Ruaraka. While in Class Six, the Missionaries of Charity took her to the Mother Theresa Children’s Home.

“I grew up as a needy child. My parents were jobless and we were struggling financially,” she opens up.

She attended St Martins Primary School in Ruaraka before proceeding to St Charles Luanga High School in Uganda, where she studied up to Form Six.

“I had the passion of plaiting hair from a young age. I used to plait other girls while at the children’s home. On finishing high school, I asked the sisters to take me for training and they took me to a beauty college in town to further my skills,” she explains.

After working for five years at a busy salon in Nairobi, Ms Wariah decided to get a small space where she could do hair business and assist other vulnerable girls.

“I had to really work hard. This environment in Mathare North is harsh. I felt in me a need to assist other girls come out of their needy situations,” says Ms Wariah who has become a beacon of hope to vulnerable girls in Ruaraka.

She advices women to learn a trade or two that they can do with their hands and survive without depending on anyone.

“This is something like tailoring, beauty, catering, and mechanics – explore any passion within you. If young women learn this, the society cannot go hungry.”