Single refugee mother from Myanmar fights against odds to raise her family

Single refugee mother from Myanmar fights against odds to raise her family

NEW DELHI, India, March 3 (UNHCR)- In a cramped room, on the first floor of a building situated in one of the dusty lanes of West Delhi, Emily* is busy giving beauty tips to a customer in broken Hindi while applying a beauty cream on her face.

Emily and the slightly amused young woman, who is sitting in a chair, are talking while looking at each other in the large mirror in front of them.

The air is filled with the aroma of beauty creams and on a table in front of the mirror are lying all the articles a beautician requires and one can imagine -- scissors, hair straightener, and beauty products.

In the other corner of the room, her seven-year-old daughter rests on a bed, hugging a fluffy toy. For 31-year-old Emily, a refugee from Myanmar, running a salon in Delhi is almost a dream come true given the persecution she had to face back home. Living under the shadow of constant fear, she had finally gathered the courage to leave her home along with her two children in Myanmar, and came to India some six years ago.

Speaking through her interpreter, she says, "I'm fortunate to run this salon and grateful to UNHCR and BOSCO for giving me a business grant to start this business."

Once in India, besides she, as a single parent, was faced double challenge of earning money to support family besides taking care of her kids. Initially, for a few years, Emily did a job in an export factory on a daily wages basis but the income was not enough to support her family.

With a hope to acquire new skills and eke out a living in India, she later joined a training programme in beauty care organized by BOSCO under UNHCR's urban refugee programme.

A quick learner, Emily soon after applied for a business grant of Rs 25,000 from BOSCO to start business and opened a beauty salon from her home in 2012, which put her on the road to self-sufficiency and empowerment.

"I worked really hard to open up the salon. I started from the scratch and that too in a foreign land. I attended the BOSCO training and worked in a beauty salon to get hands-on training in beauty care. And now by the grace of god, I'm able to earn enough to support the family," says Emily with a smile on her face.

But what really makes her happy is the fact that now she can even afford to send her two children to a private school. "When I started, not many people knew about my beauty parlor. But gradually with word of mouth publicity and support of my friends, my network grew," she says.

Now, she has Burmese, Indian and Nepalese customers visiting her salon. But it was never a smooth ride for Emily even after opening the salon and it still is not. The language barrier had made it difficult for her to communicate with some of her clients but her children -- 12-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter -- helped her with Hindi and English as Emily says, she says both of them picked up the language quite fast.

With the expansion of her business, her landlord started complaining about the inconvenience caused due to the increase in number of customers.

"My previous landlord would start complaining the day I got more customers than the usual. Also, he would grumble about the smell of the chemicals being used in the parlor. Due to his recurring complaints, I had to shift to this new place," said Emily, while straightening the hair of a customer.

Emily, the sole breadwinner, has also taken up knitting jobs on order basis. "Being a single mother can be tough. But we have been surviving alone without having other resources. It's very essential for a woman to be financially independent as it boosts her confidence and self-esteem," says Emily.

*The name has been changed due to protection reasons

By Shuchita Mehta in New Delhi, India


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