In a low-key salon in a village in central Uganda, a woman nurses her baby as a hairdresser carefully teases her hair. The scene feels wonderfully ordinary – even mundane. It’s a ritual many of us in Scotland have experienced countless times.
But for Lydia, the hairdresser and owner of this relatively new business, it’s a far cry from how her life used to be. The single mother of five lives in an area plagued by poverty and unemployment.
She was orphaned at 13, with the HIV epidemic that has haunted Uganda for decades the likely cause, leaving the teenager and her seven siblings to fend for themselves.
She said: “I was living in a very poor situation. My biggest challenge was food. We didn’t have enough for the family to eat. I used to work on people’s land to earn money, but still we’d only eat one meal a day and sometimes go to sleep on empty stomachs.”
Digging for hours in the punishing 30-degree heat with very little to eat took its toll on Lydia’s health.
When she was just 16, Lydia adopted her two nephews after her sister’s new husband disowned them. In Uganda, if a woman remarries, it’s common for the new husband to refuse to care for her children from her previous marriage.
Then, at 24 and pregnant with her youngest child, Lydia’s husband left her, plunging the family even deeper into poverty.
She recalled: “My children couldn’t attend school because I couldn’t afford school fees or materials. I couldn’t provide their basic necessities, like clothes. We didn’t have any bedding. When it rained some parts of the hut would leak and we slept on the wet floor.”
But far from being consumed by despair, Lydia’s life began to change when she got involved in a project run by SCIAF’s partner Caritas Lugazi.
She received training in sustainable farming and was given seeds and tools so she could grow more food. The 26-year-old also joined a community group organised by Caritas Lugazi, where she was taught about saving and given access to low-interest loans.
Using the profits from her successful harvests, Lydia raised enough money to feed her family and send her children to school. She also attended a vocational school to train as a hairdresser.
Lydia initially set up a mobile business, travelling to clients’ houses, but in October last year she was finally able to open her own permanent salon.
She said: “I was so excited. I was so happy I had a place to sit and a place for clients to find me.”
That’s where she finds herself now – the new owner of a salon and running a successful business. A woman who has transformed her own life, and that of her family, after receiving just a little bit of help from SCIAF and the people of Scotland.
Lydia added: “I feel great now. I am living a happy life. My children are in school and I have enough food. My life has changed a lot.
“Before, we had no hope. But now I have seen a great light for the future. I am very happy. I am so thankful to the people in Scotland for the support they are giving us.”
But in a country where a third of people still live in extreme poverty there is always more work to be done. The legacy of war, HIV and Aids has left a generation of young people without hope. With your help we can change that and give them the future they deserve. Lydia is the face of SCIAF’s Wee Box Big Change Lent appeal this year, which tells the story of our work with vulnerable young people in Uganda.
We’re giving people a hand up, so they can work their way out of poverty, live life with dignity, support themselves and their families, and build a brighter future. Lydia’s story shows just how big an impact we can have.
SCIAF is working hard to give young people in Uganda and other developing countries the same opportunities. It’s a chance for some to discover talents they didn’t know they possessed. For many, a little bit of help is all they need to work their way out of poverty and transform their lives.
But to do this we need people in Scotland to continue to be generous by giving what they can to our Wee Box appeal. With your help we can transform the lives of millions of the poorest people in the world. Together, we can end poverty.
To donate to SCIAF’s Wee Box Big Change appeal visit www.sciaf.org.uk
Alistair Dutton is director of the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF).