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From the shelter to independence

By Paul Harris

Three years ago, Lindelani Ndou found herself alone in a foreign country with two children. She had no credentials and no way of getting a job. Yet now Ndou is set to open up an African beauty supply store in Manhattan.

She credits the support system of Manhattanites and her own determination with helping her persevere.

“I was really frustrated,” Ndou said.

Ndou had come to Manhattan with her husband, a Kansas State University student, and their two children. That being so, she was allowed to enter the country without credentials of her own.

But when the couple divorced and he returned to South Africa, she was left with the children, no place to go, no job and no paperwork enabling her to get work.

Instead of pouting, Ndou and the children moved in to the Manhattan emergency shelter. She thought about going back home, but the school system was good and Ndou was enjoying Manhattan. All played factors in her decision to stay.

At the shelter, Ndou was met with warmth and kindness.

“Americans are very welcoming,” she said. “They made me feel very comfortable.”

Before immigrating, Ndou saw Americans as people of very high class, which was further intimidating to her.

“I didn’t know how I was going to fit in,” she said.

The support system she found eventually led to Ndou opening up a beauty store.

“You don’t make it without people’s love,” she added. “They really showed me a lot of love.” People would see Ndou walking with groceries and would offer to give her a ride or helped her get supplies for her business.

“People kept telling me you are going to make it,” she said.

During her nearly year-long stay at the shelter, Ndou kept asking herself what she wanted to do. The only answer she came up with was braiding.

With help from her parents and with money left in her savings, Ndou opened up Ndou’s African Braiding. Braiding is a widely known skill in her home of South Africa, but it was not something Ndou thought would eventually buy her a house and a car.

“At home it is not a job that you can take to survive,” she said. “You take it as a side thing, but here women think we are amazing.”

Women travel from as far as Junction City, Topeka, and Salina to get their hair braided from Ndou.

Having people drive an hour is “humbling.”

While the store is called an African braiding store, her clientele is not limited. She has braided American, Korean, Chinese, and African women’s hair. She also does men’s hair. All of Ndou’s clients, primarily the wives of Fort Riley soldiers, have entered the store based on word of mouth. She also has a customer base of Kansas State students.

Prior to opening the store, Ndou was braiding her friends’ hair. This tactic served Ndou well in getting her name out in the community. 

“People knew me,” she said.

Only two years after opening her braiding store, Ndou is expanding. She is going to open an African beauty supply store called Linde’s that will feature both American and African hair products.

Ndou believes a higher power led her to success. “When I look at this, I only see God,” she said. She especially prayed when she was without work. “I teach my children to pray,” she said. “Every day we pray. We pray because we are blessed to stay here.”

Prior to opening her own store, Ndou never thought about failing.

“I knew I was a hard worker,” she said. 

That hard work and dedication is making Ndou a success.

Now Ndou wants to work with the shelter and give back to the community that so richly blessed her.

“I want to bring them to my shop and share with them,” Ndou said. “When you didn’t have any hope, you can look to your goals and you can make it. It is a very difficult as a woman at a shelter to focus because your world is falling. You can trust in god and don’t let your dream be interrupted by what is going on.”

She will tell the women this while braiding their hair in her new salon.

It’s a lesson that Ndou hopes she can share for years to come.

In 10 years, Ndou wants to open up a distribution center of African hair products. Her goal is to distribute all over America from Manhattan, a city she never wants to leave.

“I really love people in Manhattan,” Ndou said.

Ndou gets her products directly from Africa, something that is unusual in this area.

“African products are unique and people here like it,” she said.

Where most American products use real hair, the product Ndou imports is comprised of animal hair fibers that do not tangle and last longer.

“When you deal with human hair, you want something of a higher quality,” Ndou said. “When people come to my shop, they can choose.”

Her shop is set to hold it’s grand opening on July 1 and is the first of its kind in Manhattan.

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