The birth of Hair Aid sounds like the start of a cheesy joke – “two nuns walked into a bar” – but it was the beginning of this not for profit’s ongoing mission to empower people living in critical poverty with income earning skills.
Founder Selina Tomasich was on holidays in the Manila when she met two nuns caring for children whose parents were too poor to feed them. “Sister Kate and Sister Claudia would work to reunite their child with their parents and to do that, they were teaching parents skills so they could get a job,” Selina said. “They had a dream to open sewing centre. I returned armed with six donated sewing machines, two seamstresses and three university students, and we taught 17 people to sew. While you are training, you get talking and I asked what other skills they’d like to learn … they responded, ‘hair cutting’.”
That was nine years ago. Since then, Selina has been working tirelessly gathering support and the time of hairdressers from around the globe. They travel with her to countries like the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia to teach the local people how to cut hair so they can earn a living. And she travels the world seeking sponsorship and making connections with the hair industry to raise awareness of the inspiring work Hair Aid does. “For some many in these countries, they live in abject poverty, with few opportunities to improve their lives. Some are escaping prostitution, sex slavery and the drug trade. Learning how to cut hair gives them the skills to change their lives,” Selina said.
Over the past nine years, Hair Aid has taught more than 4040 people how to cut hair. That is thousands who can better provide for their families – rooves over heads, food on the table, shoes on feet and kids off to school. Hair Aid now does seven international projects a year with over 20 hairdressers on each project and a free community cutting project in Australia. “Our international projects teach our five-day cutting course. Our trainees learn five basic haircuts and on graduation receive the tools they need to turn their skills into a business or to just cut their family’s hair,” Selina said. “Our classrooms are under trees, in community centres, on basketball courts and this year, a world first, in a cemetery.”
There is something incredibly powerful about teaching people skills they can use on an ongoing basis. Tarryn Cherniayeff, from Sydney’s MOBHair, was one of the volunteer hairdressers on Hair Aid’s 21st project in Manila. It was her first project. Her first time venturing into a world totally different to ‘the Sydney life’. “A skill is forever. Money can solve a few problems but teaching a skill, that can used over and over, passed down through generations and be taught to friends and throughout the community is powerful,” she said. “I haven’t seen poverty like that before; it hit me in face. I have not grown up in wealthy area yet I live in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, so life is not as challenging as it is for the people I taught in Manila. For me to see that was profound. I always felt like living among the wealth that I never enough and that I wasn’t enough. I witness competition daily based on what you have, how much money you have, what you look like and the Hair Aid experience really puts things into perspective. I wish everyone around me could witness this.”
Tarryn was blown away by how humble and generous the people in the Manila communities are. “The people are so humble with what they have and all they wanted was a chance to learn, and a chance to better their lives. I could see they truly don’t care about materialist things. I think we could all take a leaf out of their books,” she said
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