Breaking the poverty cycle, one snip at a time

Give a man a haircut and you help him for a day. Teach a man to cut hair and you employ him for a lifetime, or so a Sunshine Coast charity has found.

In 2010 local barber Bernie Craven co-founded Hair Aid, a charity that travels to the Philippines to help locals find employment by teaching them basic cutting skills.

Six years on, he and Sunshine Coast education lecturer Selina Tomasich have helped find 700 people a job.

Mr Craven said the five-day course run by a handful of Australian hairdressers was held biannually in Quezon City, Manila.

I didn't realise something so little could make such a massive impact.

Pete Walstab

"We give them a taste of the industry, and teach them some entry level cutting skills which leads to job creation," Mr Craven said.

"These people can instantly go out and find work.

"We had one lady who was prostituting her daughter to put food on the table, and at the end of the five days of hair cutting training, she was earning enough money and she didn't have to do that anymore."

Some of the most talented participants have even gone on to join distinguished salons for more training.

"We were in the slums and the middle of it all and it's busy and there are kids running around, but they're all very respectful of us and really appreciate what we're doing," Mr Craven said.

"To be able to see them take charge of their own life in a visible way is amazing."

Knife sharpening and scissor repairs

Because the majority of the hairdressing students were women, the charity expanded its program to include courses tailored towards men.

Melbourne hairdresser and master scissor-maker Pete Walstab said after hearing about the charity, he and his bladesmith decided their skills could be valuable in the Philippines.

"There are 100 million people over there and every household has a knife, and most households probably couldn't afford to buy a new one so we thought it was a good market," Mr Walstab said.

Armed with his grinder and belt, Mr Walstab travelled to Manilla to teach local men about sharpening knives and scissors, and said it had been a great success.

"It worked really well. On our third day that we were there, one of our students showed up and he'd gone out that night to collect knives, and he came back with nearly 45 to do on that day."

Mr Walstab said he was convinced it would be a sustainable business model for Filipinos after hearing a story from one of his students.

"We've got one guy over there, Aldi. He lives with sister after his wife passed away and they had five children," he said.

"He was a carpenter but he was earning $7.50 a week and that was enough money for only one of his kids to go to school.

"From doing this, he's out collecting knives from charity centres, from restaurants, and from locals charging anywhere between 20 cents and 80 cents, and now he's making $15 to $20 a day — all his kids are in school and they're eating two meals a day.

"I didn't realise something so little could make such a massive impact."

Mr Walstab said he had stayed in contact with Aldi, who had since taught 20 locals how to sharpen knives.

Charity expanding to Indigenous Australia

Mr Craven said there were many success stories, and while hearing just one could be enough, he had bigger ideas for the charity.

"By doing five days of cutting in the Philippines we can really skill them well, and while we can't do that in Australia, we now know that we teach people really quickly," he said.

This understanding has inspired Mr Craven to develop a similar five-day training course for disadvantaged and Indigenous youth in Australia.

He said in Australia, a hairdressing apprenticeship took roughly three years, and because of the long training time and poor pay, about 40 per cent of students dropped out.

The Philippines we've really worked now. We get results as we train about 100 people each time, but now I want to open up the door for hairdressers in Australia.

Bernie Craven

Mr Craven said the requirement for salons to hire apprentices once their training was over also increased the pressure on students to be competitive from a young age — a competitiveness he seeks to arm disadvantaged youth with.

"We will set up a training centre, in conjunction with a registered training authority, and run a five-day start-up program that we're limiting to school leavers to the age of 20," he said.

"As soon as you turn 21 you have to be paid 90 per cent of the adult wage, and hairdressers just can't afford it."

He said the course would also include motivational speeches and a resume-making session — all for free.

"We want to get them ready so that when they go into a salon for two weeks, they are already pre-prepared and a valuable member of the team," Mr Craven said.

He said the charity had changed countless lives, an opportunity he hoped to provide in Australia by May.

"The Philippines we've really worked now. We get results as we train about 100 people each time, but now I want to open up the door for hairdressers in Australia," he said.

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