Shear Adventures – An interview with Selina Tomasich
What is Hair Aid?
An Australian based charity doing amazing things
both internationally and in communities throughout Australia.
The Story of how Hair Aid began:
Selina Founder of Hair Aid, began Hair Aid in 2010, however,
it was originally called the Kuya Collaborative.
Selina and her husband were travelling on holidays in Manila 8 years ago when they went into a bar dying for a cold drink. When they entered the bar they met, as described by Selina, “two undercover nuns”. One of the women was Canadian and one was Australian.
The group began chatting and it was discovered that one of the ladies was a university lecturer. As Selina was a lecturer herself they began to chat more about what she taught and amazingly they realised they both taught business and entrepreneurship.
The other lady then said that she worked in social enterprise which is the term used for a charity organisation. She worked collecting children from the side of the streets who had been left there by their parents as they were too poor to feed them. They would then take the children back to the Kuya centre, where she along with other church workers would look after the children and work to reconnect them with their families.
The children were removed immediately to avoid the drug gangs, prostitution gangs or illegal adoption groups which preyed on these children. At the Kuya centre they supplied the children with food, medical goods, clothing, shelter and also supported them spiritually.
Selina said that as a parent she would hate to have to make the decision as to which child to leave on the side of the street in hope that a drug runner or gang wouldn’t pick them up because she couldn’t afford to feed them.
This is how Hair Aid got its original name, the Kuya Collaborative. Selina then asked the ladies how she could help.
The ladies said that when they do find the parents of the children that they try to teach them a livelihood skill. Their rationale was that if they gave the parents a job they could earn money and provide for their children.
Selina also asked what they were being taught, and was told that they were not doing very well at teaching them and that they would like to start a sewing centre.
Interestingly, in a previous life Selina was an interior decorator with her own factory and 15 industrial machines as well as with being a qualified seamstress.
Selina returned home to Australia keen to help the sewing centre idea come to life. She proposed the idea to her university students as a great real life experience.
Eight months later Selina returned to Manila bringing with her 6 donated sewing machines, 3 university students, 2 seamstresses and her husband and they set up the sewing centre.
In the first project they trained 17 parents. Selina then asked the head of the organisation’s Brother Luc if he would like her to do it again, he said yes so they returned the following year and taught more people how to sew.
After a few years of sewing lessons Selina asked what else they would like to teach and the response was English.
If the parents had the chance to speak better english they could have the chance to work at the markets. Selina responded “That’s easy what else?” She was then told that haircutting would be a great skill to teach as in Manila it is illegal for the boys to go to school if their hair is touching their collar.
Selina returned to Australia with no hairdressing background she placed an ad in the media and she had a hairdresser respond eager to help.
So the next year they continued to teach sewing and English lessons, however, on this trip they took 1 hairdresser, 2 seamstresses, 3 university students herself and her husband.
The following year when they looked at the numbers and they had 25 people wanting to learn how to sew and 15 people wanting to learn English. When they returned to teach hair there was 83 people!
The third time they returned to teach hair, 150 people turned up and the demand continued to grow.
Selina then rebranded the Kuya collaborative into Hair Aid 3 years ago.
The majority of the focus was and is to teach hairdressing as it is a very portable skill. The Hair Aid team leave hair kits with the community managers and it works like a library system where they borrow the kit for a day or two and cut hair and then return the kit for use by others.
When the resources are being looked after and need replacing and or servicing Hair Aid takes care of that.
Hair Aid now has the local governments supporting what they do.
Selina recently finished a Manila project where they had 26 hairdressers in 7 different locations, where they trained more than 240 people how to cut hair. Approximately 50% of those people are now cutting hair for money.
Hair Aid work with the community managers to guide people on what they can charge for their hair cutting skills. In a street salon a hair cut is around 60 Pesos (approximately $1.50AUD ) on the street they can charge around 30 Pesos (or roughly 76cents AUD)
The wealthy Filipinos are quiet happy to use the street services as they are cheaper so this also creates business for them.
It is also quite common to have house helpers in the Philippines so they often bring in the street haircutters to cut the house helpers hair as well.
Hair Aid are able to take people from there current earning of around 150-200 Pesos a day up to 500-600 Pesos a day which means they are more than doubling their income.
For people who might start their own micro business they could cut anywhere from 10-20 cuts a day.
This means the students go from little to no income to an income that can allow them to move off the streets into the slums where they pay rent. Also people who were already living in the slums, once they learn, are able to afford to send their children to school and their children no longer need to steal or turn to prostitution to survive.
In September of 2017, Hair Aid travelled to Indonesia for the first time and trained people living in dumps and jungle provinces. They also introduced manicure and pedicure training for the first time.
At first getting the manicure and pedicure training off the ground with the import of chemicals and so on was difficult, however, Hair Aid is about being responsive to the community and their needs.
Around 60 people were trained in manicure and pedicure on the first Indonesian project and the results were outstanding. Selina said they were doing nail art by day 4!
Hair Aid is now in Sweden and Canada and has just recently launched at Salon International in the UK. New Zealand will launch soon and the USA is in the works for 2019.The sewing centre still operates today, 8 years later and with some new sewing machines.
Selina says “It’s amazing walking away knowing we’ve changed lives”
Does Hair Aid do anything in the Australian communities?
Yes! A lot of people were complimenting Selina on her great work over seas but asking want about people in need in Australia? The Hair Aid community cuts began to support people around Australia whether homeless, long term unemployed, sufferers of domestic violence, youth health and mental issues .Working with organisations and teams of volunteers they go around every 6 weeks and cut hair for 2-3 hours. There are now over 32 programs running Australia wide.
Who helps support Hair Aid with resources ?
Whilst speaking with Selina, De Lorenzo delivered 9 boxes of shampoos and conditioners to Hair Aid to be used for the Hair Aid community cuts! Selina told me that De Lorenzo were regular supporters of Hair Aid and she truly appreciated there generosity. A little while back they supplied Hair Aid with enough cutting capes to last them for up to two years! They even made a special order taking into account that the capes would be used overseas for students cutting dark hair and sent them white capes to make it easier for them to see the hair.
Then a gentleman named Steve dropped in to drop off 50 pairs of scissors he had just sharpened for Hair Aid for the community cuts and international projects.
Companies have also provided Hair Aid with products that can be used in raffles and other fundraising efforts to get more volunteers onto the projects.
Selina told me when the older capes were no longer able to be used to cut hair they were donated to the local communities where people were using them to help waterproof there street homes.
“ How do you measure sending a child to school or that child getting an education and changing the next generation?” – Selina
How does it work and what does a day abroad look like?
Selina takes teams of 30 people every time she travels, which is now predominantly in the Philippine. All volunteers are welcome! Hair Aid provides a fundraising kit and plenty of ideas for raising to funds to join the projects.
Selina and I spoke about what a day on the international projects looks like:
Selina’s awake at 3.00am answering emails, sharing resources, organising projects and drivers.
7.30am the team all meets for breakfast
8-8.30am the vans arrive to pick everyone up and take them to there location
9am the training begins
There is a 1 hour break for lunch, culturally it’s very important to stop for lunch as it is a very social time for the locals. Sometimes the team will go for walks in this time, sometimes someone will invite the team to their home.
4-5pm training finishes and you head back to the hotel
when you arrive back at the hotel there is a debrief about every location and volunteer
7pm everyone showers and then meets for dinner at a local restaurant.
When should you arrive?
All volunteers should arrive the Saturday before and either fly out the following Saturday or potentially the Friday night.
Training runs from Monday until Friday
The Sunday before trainung starts the teams all meet and get to know each other. You will then be taking through the 5 day cutting program.
All the kits will be organised for the train and Selina will talk through the rules as well as cultural things to be aware of.
On the Friday there is a graduation ceremony where the people who have been part of the project receive a certificate that shows that they are now competent at cutting hair. These certificates can also be taking into local street salons to apply for jobs. Hair Aid also aligns with local salons to help train there staff and also potentially help future hair cutters gain employment.
The below is one of Many stories Selina has experienced on the projects that I wanted to share with you all:
On one of Selina’s trips to Manila in the Philippines she had a lady come along to learn to cut hair, she was a single mum with 4 children and no mention of a father. She arrived on Monday ready and eager to learn. Selina said she knew that she would be able to set up her own micro business.
On Tuesday she was there learning with everyone else.
On Wednesday she didn’t show up which was not unusual as sometimes people would have a job they needed to go to that day or an elderly family member they needed to care for or they were out looking for food.
Whilst training they aren’t earning any money and they still need to feed their families.
On Thursday she showed up again Selina said “oh we missed you yesterday are you ok? hows things?”
Her response was my son died can you please catch me up. Sadly her son died of starvation and they could not afford to bury the body so he was left on of the side of the street until the council would pick him up three weeks later.
Selina along with Caterina Di Biase stayed back to help train her. The lady had lost 1 of her boys but still had 1 boy and twin girls to take care of and feed. The twins were at the time out working as prostitutes to earn money and were paid more as they were twins.
She was learning to cut hair to so that she could send her son and daughters to school.
She now cuts hair for a living and her and her children are no longer living on the street. They are still living in the slums but the lady said she would rather live in the slums so that the children could have an education.
Want to help Hair Aid in changing lives one haircut at a time?
Hair Aid are in constant need of new resources and appreciate anything that you can offer.
You know that brush that you just don’t really like anymore or that cutting cape that has faded or you just want the latest cutting comb? Hair Aid would love you to send them over to them to become reusable tools and help support the great work they do.
There is talk that in the future there will also be the opportunity to potentially purchase and donate hair kits for the communities to use and also monetary donations will be accepted as a hairdresser myself i understand our time in the salon is how we make a living. However if you are having a kit update before you throw away a comb or cape that could still be re used send an email to Selina she would love to hear from you! email: firstname.lastname@example.org