The Hair Aid story began in 2010 when founder and CEO, Selina Tomasich, was holidaying in the Philippines when she met two nuns living in Manila.
Starting up a conversation with Sister Kate, a fellow Australian, and Sister Claudia from Canada, Selina heard about the work the Sisters did with children abandoned on the streets of Manila whose parents were too poor to feed them. Their story touched Selina's heart and motivated her to help.
The Sisters explained that children who were found abandoned on the streets were taken to a secure safe location where the children's physical, spiritual and medical needs were looked after.
Once the children were safe, the Sisters' goal was to reunite them with their parents, who were usually living on the street, or in a slum. Most parents had abandoned their children because they had no income and could not buy food to feed them.
The Sisters' mission was to teach the parents a skill they could turn into a job. This whole concept instantly resonated with Selina - but when she asked what skill they taught the parents, they said, “Oh, we’re no good at that part, but our dream is to one day start a sewing center.”
Inspired by what she'd heard in Manila, Selina, on return to Australia, put her previous experience with sewing and organizational skills to use. Selina, an Academic at the University of the Sunshine Coast at the time, gathered a few students, two seamstresses and an array of donated machines and returned to Manila.
On this trip, the team taught seventeen people how to sew in two weeks. She returned the following year with even more volunteers.
When she asked what other skills would be useful, the locals responded, "Haircutting".
Back home in Australia, she gathered volunteer hairdressers to join her next trip. The response for hair cutting training grew and in 2013 Selina founded Hair Aid and registered it as a not-for-profit in Australia.
Hair Aid has now grown and is established worldwide.
From these humble beginnings, Hair Aid now has seven international projects a year, and 20+ hairdressers at a time come on each project.
Hair Aid does two trips a year to the Philippines and Cambodia and once a year to Indonesia. As of 2019, Hair Aid has also been traveling to Thailand to get involved in projects there.
Training can be under a tree or on a basketball court - wherever there are space and people willing to learn. In five days, the locals can learn five basic cuts. With their newfound skills and also the hair-cutting kits donated through Hair Aid, the locals can go on to open their own businesses - even on the side of a road - to start earning money to feed their children. To date, Hair Aid has trained over 5000 people.
Each project ends with graduation ceremonies, which are often emotional occasions. One of the first women who graduated stood up and said, "Thank you for training us. Now my children will not die."
Alongside these international projects, Hair Aid has started another offshoot; Hair Aid Community Cuts (HACCs). Working in 40 communities around Australia, volunteer hairdressers travel to various locations every six weeks to provide free haircuts to people who cannot afford them. The demand is so great - and Hair Aid is working to reach more people around the country.
Adapted and edited from an article by Amanda Watt, The Courier-Mail, 7 October 2018.