In theory, adult education and lifelong learning empower and encourage the adult individuals to be flexible to learn throughout life, to gain new skills, even maybe choose to walk a new career path for improved competitiveness on the labor market. It may sound an easy thing to do….But how does it feel, from the perspective of the individual who is in such a situation? 

Sonja Cizbanoska, 45, from Skopje, North Macedonia, a wife and a mother of 2 teenagers, is working as a hairdresser in the specialized children hair salon “Little stars”. She is telling her story on how she changed not only her career, but also her life through non-formal education.  Experiences like Sonja’s prove the power of non-formal education in making people’s lives better. Read her testimony:

Sonja, you have been working as a hairdresser in a specialized children hairdressing salon for 3 years now, but your life path did not lead you directly to what you are today. Tell us more about it.

By finishing secondary vocational school of chemistry in 1998, I became a chemical technician. In spite my talent for dressing hair. I never had the courage to educate myself to become a hairdresser. I only practiced my skills on my two sisters and friends. I decided to go to University of Technology in order to become a chemical engineer one day. Unfortunately, I did not manage to pass the last 3 remaining exams and never really graduated.

As a chemical technician, I couldn’t find a job at all. In Macedonia, the chemical industry is weak and so is the labor market for that profile. I struggled for almost 15 years between periods of unemployment and changing different jobs. The milestone in my life happened in 2015, when my sister Snezhana decided to start a business and open a hairdressing salon for children. She encouraged me and convinced me to sign up a hairdressing course. She was the one who believed in me back then. I am what I am today thanks to her!

Seventeen years have passed since you decided to quit university until your current employment. How would you describe that period? How did you feel?

When thinking of the period 1999 – 2016, I can say that it is a time of many ups and downs. I got married, I gave birth to two children to whom I dedicated most of my time and focus. I was a 24/7 mom, devoted to the family. I’ve made attempts to seek for jobs. I worked as a secretary in a construction company, in a grocery store, in a call center etc. Over the years, the periods of unemployment made me feel unconfident, the level of my self-confidence reached the 0. Because of that, it was hard for me to look for a job. There were periods where I did not seek a job at all.

How did you come to the point of deciding to enter a non-formal education program for hairdressers? How did you perceive the education process as such?

As a person, I am someone who does not get easy into situations and I have fears; After a certain period of time and lots of persuading, my sister managed to convince me to attend a hairdressing course. I signed up for a 3-month program offered by one open civic university in the frames of which I learned the basics. During and several months after the course, I volunteered at a barbershop. This 10-month of learning at the workplace was very useful for me – I could practice the skills I learned in the course and I gained many new skills. When at home, I watched online tutorials and tried them out on my family members. For me, the period of learning in the course and at the workplace is a time of efforts, practice, mistakes and experience.

What does your new career mean to yourself personally?

I can frankly say that I found myself in hairdressing children. I finally feel that I succeeded in life, I realize my own worth and value, I am financially independent. My life improved in general and so did my life quality. Today I can have wishes but also have the power to make them come true – something which was unthinkable to me in the past.  

What is your message to all those adults who want to make a positive change in their lives, but are afraid to?

The fear is destructive. Don’t be afraid to try – you can not lose. When you try, you can only WIN!

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