Too young to be a widow after tragedy hit her family, Bukurija* was left with three children, debts belonging to others and, in her mind, nothing to live for. Then, in the middle of her despair, Bukurija received a phone call from her daughter’s teacher, inviting her to a meeting at the school hosted by Operation Mercy.
“The meeting was great,” Bukurija remembered. “They gave us a questionnaire, and the questions were about what we wanted to do in our future. I wrote that I wanted to learn about hairdressing because my dream was to be a hairdresser and also to learn how to be a makeup artist.”
Operation Mercy had been at the school that day to present a challenge for women to engage in the workforce, in a context of poverty where 90 per cent of women do not contribute to their households’ income. But things could be different. One of the speakers explained that life did not need to be over even when tragedy hit. As a widow, Bukurija took this encouragement to heart. Still, she had missed out on education and not experienced a lot of freedom.
“Before I was married, my sisters were going to school, but my parents didn’t have the resources to pay for my education,” Bukurija said. “When my sisters were going to school, I was looking at them and crying.”
Though her father did pay for driving lessons, and Bukurija got her driver’s license, once she married, her husband would not let her drive. “I was stuck at home. I wasn´t working, except to cook and make tea. There was no other option,” she summarised.
After the meeting with Operation Mercy, Bukurija experienced a little glimmer of hope, but it was still not clear for her how she could continue because of her many challenges. She started to attend Operation Mercy’s STEP programme, but her motivation was still weak.
She did not really believe in herself. In addition, she didn’t have anybody to watch her kids, and because of that, she wanted to quit. But Karoline from the Operation Mercy team kept calling Bukurija and encouraging her to come together with her kids; Karoline explained that she and some of the staff would take care of the kids in the waiting room while Bukurija was in lessons.
As it turned out, not giving up was life-changing. Bukurija persevered and completed the training, pressing on to graduate from the vocational skills section of the programme. For the four STEP candidates who had chosen hairdressing as their zanat (skill), training had been outsourced to the most prestigious hairstyling academy in their half of the city.
Even more amazing, the academy offered Bukurija, along with one of the other STEP graduates, the chance to extend her training and join their staff!
“Now I’m living out my dream,” Bukurija said. “I’m a different person: I’m driving my car after many long years. I’ve started to have a smile on my face. I’ve started to work [in the field] I was dreaming about. I’m enjoying every single moment. Now my son is going to kindergarten, and I have a purpose for living. I’m so happy because I got my diploma and the opportunity to work… I’m so grateful to all the staff.”