Through her drive, Odette fulfilled her dream, through her work, she has found her husband, and through her life, she hopes to become an inspiration for many women.
Odette, refugee from Congo started her own business in Ukraine
Sounds of laughter are heard as Odette Nienge, 40, organizes different colored hair extensions in her salon. It’s a very relaxing and cozy space, as friends from her home country pay frequent visits to exchange stories. Odette came from Congo to Ukraine in 2009 after escaping the Congolese Civil War. She didn’t know anything about Ukraine, let alone the language. First arriving in Odessa, she worked several jobs, including Domino’s Pizza, as she found her way to survive in her new country.
In her previous life, she was a hair stylist, braiding African hair in beautiful brightly colored weaves. She proudly shares about her flourishing business in Congo and how she strived to own her salon again, here in Ukraine.
“I love my job you know, I am passionate about it!”
Building her clientele list, Odette began by opening a small booth on the beachside, attracting tourists. Young Ukrainian girls expressed excitement as they picked their favorite colors and explored their new look that was unfamiliar to their own culture.
“It is very strong to come to Ukraine and start a business with braids when it’s not common,” says a young girl who just had multiple braids woven. “It is inspirational for me.”
It was fate when Odette met her Ukrainian husband while working at this sunny beachside. He surprised her with by speaking French language, and shocked her more when she learned he has been to Congo before. Their initial meeting was brief, but they reconnected after she moved Kyiv.
Odette managed to collect enough finances on her own and support from UNHCR, to fulfill her dream of opening her very own salon in this big city. Hiring three other staff members, she has expanded her services to include men’s and women’s hairstyles. Odette and her husband have worked alongside each other to build their business while creating a new salon space in Kyiv.
In Ukraine, UN figures show that out of 63% of all economic entities, 46% of them are female individual entrepreneurs. Odette observed, it is what she learned from those female leaders this is motivating her to run her African-style hair business.
Odette shares, “Ukrainians showed me how to do their nails, their form of art… and I wanted to contribute. I have art in my hands and I wanted to share it with Ukrainians.”
It is now late in the evening and the busy city has quieted down. A tall Ukrainian man enters the room with a smile. With an electric saw in one hand, he reaches out for a handshake, speaking in perfect English, “Hello! I’m Odette’s husband!”
He quickly calls for his wife after a brief introduction. The two head to a room directly next to the salon. In the unfinished space, the couple begins planning ideas for the business while discussing in French. This space will soon be Odette’s second space where she will have a nail salon. Through her drive, Odette fulfilled her dream, through her work, she has found her husband, and through her life, she hopes to become an inspiration for many women.