In a small village in one of the poorer areas of Tafila, Jordan is the site of the Rebuild for Peace cosmetology centre. The roads to the school building are a quiet, sandy maze that can only be navigated by asking passers-by for directions, and as we made our way through them at 11.00 a.m. on a Tuesday they were lined with children and dogs sitting in the sun with little to do.
When the car stopped, the centre became audible immediately: the sound of energetic discussion poured out into the surrounding silence, and I was excited to see inside. The headteacher greeted us at the front gate, then led us through a small garden of olive trees and up to the front door. Inside, a group of grinning women in their early 20s looked up at us from their work.
After a few warm but business-like introductions, the women returned to studiously practicing the techniques they were studying that day (too focussed to pay any attention to the photos we were taking) and in the meantime the headteacher gave us an enthusiastic update on the students’ progress.
A surprising observation was that the women were all doing the hair and make-up of young girls. At first this struck me as odd as they could have been practicing on each other. However, when the time came to chat to and interview of the students, it became clear why the young children were so keen to be styled by hairdressers who have yet to complete their training.
The reason, as the students were eager to tell me in their interviews, was that there is no hairdresser in the village, and the nearest place to go for any cosmetological service is hard to reach for many of the locals. Hence why they are so pleased to be learning cosmetology: as soon as they are fully trained they will be able to open a salon that will serve people for miles around.
The earnest excitement at being able to use their new skills to benefit their friends and neighbours while earning money to support themselves and their families was inspiring. Each centre addresses different challenges and has different goals, but this level of optimism is something all Rebuild for Peace centres aim to achieve.
For many of the women, the centre is also an excuse to become involved in activities outside their houses. As the area is not very well-connected, it can be difficult and potentially dangerous for residents, particularly women, to get around. In fact such is the extent of the problem that it prevented many of the women from going to university as it was too far by bus.
There are also those whose families do not approve of women receiving formal education, but considered cosmetology to be an acceptable course. While Rebuild for Peace does not intend to reinforce these gender norms, being able to learn and socialise at the same time is a huge benefit for the women’s physical and mental health when many would otherwise have to remain sedentary in the house.
These are young women who have the desire and ability to be starting their professional careers. At Rebuild for Peace, we strive to make this possible for everyone by ensuring our centres are safe spaces that encourage independence and self-expression amongst students. It was moving to see this ethos so thoroughly shared in a place where it can make a such a big difference.