I remember chatting to a lady at Hair Expo in Sydney a couple of years ago about Hair Aid. She was extremely excited about what the organization was about and what they did. I walked away thinking that it would be interesting to find out more, but never did. I had opened my new salon a month prior and got caught up in the whirlwind of a new business. Until...

I Went To Cambodia With Hair Aid

One of my friends tagged me in a post on Facebook back in November calling for hairdressers for a Hair Aid Project in Cambodia. After an email to the founder, I was hooked.

One of my team members saw my excitement, read the email and what was involved and asked if she could join me. I remember feeling better knowing I would have Maddi with me as we were going into unfamiliar territory. We booked our flights that afternoon and the journey began.

Map of Cambodia and demographic information

To be honest, I was going in blind

I knew very little about Hair Aid and where I was going. Maddi and I fundraised $4000 to contribute to Hair Aid, helped by our homemade flyers for the salon which sparked a lot of interest with our clients. There was a constant buzz, chatting about our upcoming adventure together.

Before the project started, we had a 5-day Induction, which gave us a taste of what was to come. I walked the corridors of S21 in silence and saw the destruction caused by the Pol Pot regime who led the Khmer Rouge. I met two elderly survivors from this time, one of which held my hand and kissed my forehead as I sobbed like it was my story to tell.

We were taken to the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields. I have very few words to describe this day and it will be one that I will remember forever. There are images that cannot be unseen, the horror and devastation is overwhelming and something I will never forget.

Early on we spent time teaching at Destiny Rescue, where young women and children have been rescued from sex slavery and trafficking. Then, we moved onto AIM (Agape International Missions), an organisation that helps to prevent child sex trafficking and innocent kids falling into the hands of paedophiles and pimps.

My first WOW moment was at AIM. Picture this; an open fronted room with nothing in it, lime green walls and a tiled floor. It’s hot and I have sweat dripping from places that I shouldn’t. There were about 7 of us in a circle, and 5 or 6 kids at a time started coming in for a haircut, sitting patiently, waiting for their turn to sit in the chair. The room was loud, children were giggling, dogs were coming in and flopping around in the hair on the floor, and there was lots of chatter from volunteer workers (and us of course). One haircut would finish and the next would start. About 60 haircuts were done in about 2 hours.

The AIM room in Cambodia

As I’m cutting a young girl’s hair, I find myself completely mesmerised by a young Cambodian man, a volunteer of AIM, who softly started singing “Imagine” by John Lennon.

For a moment, that was all that surrounded me. I could hear nothing else. A man that had so little, in a country that had suffered so much, singing the most touching lyrics to one of the most beautiful songs of all time. There was no noise, there was no sweat, it was not hot and uncomfortable, I was not overwhelmed at the thought of what these children had been through, I was not in a village where children were once exploited.

I was in a silent room with two people and I remember the tears flowing down my cheeks as I listened to his incredible voice. I don’t think anyone else heard it or if they did, they never mentioned it.

After that, I was feeling overwhelmed and missed dinner that night. I recall sitting with two fellow Hair Aid Volunteers, Nat and Tabatha, the following morning for breakfast and they asked me my thoughts of the previous day as they were in a different location to me. I didn’t get a chance to debrief with the team.

I explained what happened and it reaffirmed why I was there, what I was doing and how important it was.

Hair Aid volunteers, Nat and Tabatha with Jaki and Maddi

On to the project…

Some of the locations for Volunteers were all over Phnom Penh. AIM, Destiny Rescue, Starfish, Friends, 2 of our volunteers were even in a graveyard.

Out of 14, Maddi and I were paired together, and we are sent to CCF (Cambodian Children’s Fund), which provides education and family support to the most impoverished communities. We were based around a dump site which (in my opinion) was the best of the locations.

With suitcases in hand, we walk into the community and were greeted by 8 eager faces, ready to learn. The language barrier was tough. But from day 2 we were laughing and joking and having a great time.

The objective was to teach 4 basic haircuts in 4 days, and they nailed it. These students are like sponges; so open and willing to learn, and determined to get it right. Bringing models from the school based next door, swarms of blue uniforms flooded into our outdoor classroom.

Hair Aid teaching in Cambodia

We had two stand out students in our location and their work was displayed at Sydney Hair Expo this year.

  • Eap Ren is 48 and has 4 children; 2 girls and 2 boys. He has a wife and stays at CCF housing but lives nearby in Prek Toul village. He is a scavenger, but before that he was a construction worker. Eap has loved haircutting since he was a boy and wanted to work as a hair cutter, but had no qualification. Eap hopes to work in the community and teach other adults to be barbers. He heard about Hair Aid through CCF.
  • Pen Chansophea is 31 and has 2 children; a 13-year-old girl and an 18-month-old boy, and is divorced. She lives at CCF. She doesn’t work and is a scavenger who also looks after the children from CCF community. This experience has given her the skills to be a hairdresser. She would like to take what she has learnt and be a hairdresser, not just a cutter. Pen will use this opportunity to take her skills into the community to earn money and hopefully learn to do makeup one day. She heard about hair aid through CCF.

On our last day at CCF we held a graduation; a celebration of the incredible achievements from the week. This is for our students and what they have learned. I do believe I have learned so much more, they have taught me lessons that I never imagined possible.

We are teaching a skill; a skill that the students can use to earn money to feed their family.

A haircut in the community is 75c, and even two haircuts could feed their entire family. The average wage in Cambodia is $182 US per month for someone working in a factory making garments. A scavenger may make .37c a day.

I’m proud of my achievements and I’m so grateful for the experience. I’m booked to visit Cambodia again in February 2020 and will continue my Hair Aid journey every year, visiting different countries and teaching new people, new skills. I’ve made friends that I will have for life. On our last day in Cambodia, Maddi and I were tattooed with the word “empower” in Khmer to always remind us of our achievement.

I’m also now in conversations to bring Community Cuts to Mornington – to provide haircuts to those in need in my own community. I have so much to offer and my team at both Salon Envy and Men’s Envy are backing me all the way.

More about Hair Aid

Hair Aid is a global charity based in Australia that does some very important projects! Selina Tomasich is the most amazing woman I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, who I now have the pleasure of calling my friend. She’s the founder of Hair Aid; she’s selfless and generous and I cannot speak highly enough of her and the work she does. I’m so excited to spend more time with her and work with Hair Aid in the future.

Jak and Maddie with their Hair Aid students

In a nutshell, Hair Aid sends volunteer hairdressers, from all around the world, to overseas locations to provide free hair cutting training for people living in critical poverty. Teams work directly with people living on the street, or slum communities, or with ladies rescued from the sex trade and prostitution gangs.

Volunteer hairdressers teach our four-day hair cutting course, which gives students the skills to cut five basic haircuts. These skills can then be used to start a micro business and create an income to support themselves and their family.

Hair Aid has been working in the Philippines, Indonesia and Cambodia since 2010 and this year added Thailand.

Do I recommend this? ABSOLUTELY

Would I do it again? ABSOLUTELY

I have been asked since my return, “How was your trip, how was your holiday”? This is no holiday. I have little words for what I have seen and done in Cambodia. I am humbled at the changes I have made to the people I taught and the lives I have changed by teaching something that comes natural to me.
For more information on how to join a project contact [email protected] or visit https://hairaid.org.au/

To hear more about Jaki’s story, listen in to this 10 minute interview from Melbourne’s Extra Butter morning radio.