After fleeing Togo nearly a decade ago, Natacha Adanlessossi began a new life in Australia and could finally pursue her dream of becoming a nurse.
The humanitarian refugee attempted a nursing course but like many people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, she struggled with the language barrier.
“I didn’t speak any English when I came, I’m fluent in French,” she told AAP.
“I tried the nursing course but I failed a couple of times because I couldn’t understand everything.”
Unsure what to do next, Adanlessossi, 29, remembered she held a diploma in hairdressing.
“I thought to myself: I’m very creative and good with my hands, why not do hair?”
The West African orphan learnt to braid hair at age nine, a skill passed down from her mother and grandmother.
She eventually opened a side hustle for hairstyling and began making her own hair products in her Ballarat home while studying English at Federation University.
Not long after, she heard about a scholarship program for multicultural women in business and was named last year’s runner-up.
“I was so excited, I was crying tears of joy,” she said.
“It took my business Afro Hair by Natacha to the next level, I have so many clients.”
Adanlessossi said using Google Translate helped improve her English, particularly when she wasn’t at school.
She came a full circle last year, returning to Togo to learn new hairstyles from locals, including intricate hairdos such as microlocs and sisterlocs.
She now feels she has found her calling and believes the success of her business would not have been possible without the help of the Australian Multicultural Foundation’s Carla Zampatti scholarship for young women.
In its second year, the annual scholarship is the foundation’s national initiative celebrating Zampatti’s legacy as an acclaimed fashion designer, businesswoman and champion for multiculturalism.
Last year’s winner Sofia Abel, the Brisbane-based owner of fashion brand Cienti the Label, said winning gave her confidence.
“Receiving the Carla Zampatti Scholarship has been a game-changer for my fashion label,” Ms Abel said.
“It has given me the confidence to explore new styles … it’s surreal to see the impact of the scholarship on my business growth.”
The foundation’s executive director Hass Dellal said the program aimed to help young women from a widening range of backgrounds to achieve their goals.
“Through this scholarship, we want to see more young women from diverse cultures, including newly arrived refugees, overcome barriers and challenges to achieve their aspirations and in the process, strengthen the future prosperity of multicultural Australia,” he said.
Applications for the 2023 scholarship program close on July 14 with the winner announced later this year.