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Nelly Duku came to Canada from South Sudan with her family and hopes to open her own hairstyling business one day.

A 15-year-old fleeing her country in a civil war faces an uncertain future. For Nelly Duku, whose family arrived from South Sudan in 2005, that future became bright and full of possibilities.

One of the possibilities that she never imagined was a career in trades. Now a mother of three, Nelly’s excited about the opportunities coming out of a trades sampler program for immigrant women, providing them with 12 weeks of hands-on exploratory training in hair design, culinary, and baking. The program is being offered by Progressive Intercultural Community Services (PICS), in partnership with SkilledTradesBC, and Vancouver Community College (VCC).

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“I’ve always been interested in hair—braiding and doing hair extensions since I was little,” says Nelly. “One of my goals is to go to school and take a hairstyling course. When I heard about the program, I thought that it was good start for me.”

The program began with hair design in early March but had to convert into online training for the remainder because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“The big challenge was not having tools at home to practice, but what helped me was going through the videos that the instructor sent us,” says Nelly.

She enjoyed cutting and styling the most but also learned new cooking and baking styles. And she’s proud of her new skills. “I’m proud of my ability to cut hair and cook perfect pasta for the first time that is enjoyed by my family. I never made homemade pasta before.”

Nelly sees herself taking additional training when her kids are older. “It’s exciting to know about these kinds of programs and getting more details about SkilledTradesBC and apprenticeships,” she says. “PICS and the VCC instructors were very helpful. I’m very thankful for this opportunity.”

One day, Nelly hopes to open her own hairstyling business. 

“The advice I can give to other women who are starting new lives in Canada is to never give up on their dreams and to join these kind of programs.”