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Empowerment through entrepreneurship: Marsa William

On this year’s 16 Days, be inspired by Marsa William, a 34-year-old entrepreneur from Lakes, SouthSudan, who quit a job as a schoolteacher to turn her dream of owning a hair salon into a reality. Photo by Fares Aouadi/UNMISS.

LAKES – In South Sudan, conflict and political turmoil notwithstanding, there are beacons of hope that shine brightly, illuminating paths of resilience and empowerment.One such inspiring tale comes from Marsa William, a 30-year-old entrepreneur in Rumbek, Lakes state, who, against all odds, turned her vision into a flourishing reality.Marsa's journey began in 2016, in the humble confines of a salon, nestled in a corner where dreams and determination meet. What started as a modest hairstyling venture for women, has today blossomed into a vibrant hub of commerce, selling clothes and hair extensions for all, while Marsa serves her trademark tea flavoured with cardamom to her clients along with a vat of friendly gossip.As Marsa recounts her story, her voice carries the weight of a journey marked by thoughtful decisions and bold steps. "Leaving my job as a teacher at a school wasn't easy. But as I watched my hard-earned savings eaten away by inflation, I knew I had to take control of my future, and more importantly, my children's future," she recounts with a reflective gaze.Her salon, which is a bustle of activity on any given day, stands as a testament to her entrepreneurial spirit. Marsa's days are filled with the hum of scissors and the rustle of fabric, as she skilfully navigates between fixing hair and selling clothes, and tea. "It's more than a business; it's a lifeline that has brought stability to my family. I can send my kids and younger siblings to school, something I could have been able to do if it were not for this leap of faith," she says, her eyes lighting up with pride.In striking the balance between her business and family life, Marsa's approach is both pragmatic and heartfelt. She works diligently from 7 a.m. till 6 p.m. yet ensures that her family remains at the heart of her schedule. "I am here in the salon four days a week, pouring my all into it. The rest of the week is for my family, my world. I also hired some female workers to assist me and together, as women, we ensure that this shop delivers the best services possible," she states, underscoring the importance of being a career woman and a homemaker.Marsa's resilience shone brightly, especially during the years of civil war that shattered the downtown area. "There were days we had to close, the uncertainty hanging over us like a dark cloud. But now, as relative peace has returned, so has the buzz of business. And with peace, came electricity which I desperately need to keep the business running," she recalls, with an evident sense of relief.In a deft move combining a traditional business model with the digital age, Marsa curates her products through online forums, involving her siblings in Juba to send her selected goods. "It's about understanding the pulse of the market, bringing in what people love, and adapting to their needs, while making sure we make a profit," she says, explaining her business savvy.Seasonal trends are not lost on Marsa. She notes how holidays and wedding seasons spike the demand for dresses and hair extensions, and how children's clothes fly off the shelves, a clear favourite among her offerings. "And let's not forget the tea — a simple pleasure that brings joy to many around here. Passersby and neighbouring shops order my tea multiple times throughout the day," she adds with a smile.Recalling a moment of professional pride, Marsa shares a story about a client with damaged hair from an unfortunate encounter with a unqualified hairdresser, a challenge she met with skill and care. "Seeing her smile and tear up after I gave her hair a new life by brushing it with a hot comb the right way and applying the appropriate type of wax to it, is one of the many rewards of this work. She's now a loyal client who recommends my salon to all her friends and family," Marsa reflects, her sense of fulfilment evident.Her advice to young girls and women is imbued with the wisdom of her experiences. "Girls’ education is key. It opens doors, not just in terms of being economically solvent but also in life. For women looking into vocational paths, there is an immense demand for skills like hairdressing and tailoring," she advises earnestly.In Marsa’s story, we find not just a narrative of business success, but also a deeper tale of empowerment and the unyielding spirit of a woman who not only dared to dream but turned those dreams into a vibrant reality. Her salon, more than just a place of commerce, stands as a symbol of what can women in this young nation can achieve if they are given equal opportunities.