Good deeds and good snips

Ap­pren­tice hair­dressers give free hair­cuts in Yangon’s poor­est neigh­bor­hoods.

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - Weekend | Society - NYO ME

“Teachers told chil­dren to cut their hair but I could not af­ford hair­cuts at the sa­lon. Luck­ily, they’ve come to­day” A res­i­dent of Ywar Thar Gyi

YWAR Thar Gyi in Yangon is split in two by train tracks. On one side of the rail­ways ev­ery house­hold has elec­tric­ity and liv­ing stan­dards are de­cent. On the other, fac­tory work­ers are packed in pow­er­less shanty towns.

Adding fash­ion to the in­jury, only one side has a barber. It is, of course, the richer one and it ap­plies prices (K500 for chil­dren, K700 for adults). That, res­i­dents of the poorer side ex­plain, is the cost of a meal for three. On their side, par­ents cut their chil­dren’s hair them­selves (and of­ten sell them to make an ex­tra buck).

But since 2016 a team of vol­un­teer bar­bers goes around Yangon to cut peo­ple’s hair for free. They’ve came four times to Ywar Thar Gyi, says Pan Pan one of the benev­o­lent hair­dressers. The 5-mem­ber team is not some sort of weird fash­ion avengers roam­ing the streets of Yangon; they are stu­dents who found an op­por­tu­nity to fi­nesse their tech­nique while giv­ing a hair­cut to those in need. “It is a win­win sit­u­a­tion”, says Pan Pan from the Gal­lant Home Hair Train­ing School.

That day the team had ar­rived just af­ter school time. Plas­tic chairs were set ready at the sta­tion – with the ap­proval of the rel­e­vant au­thor­i­ties, of course. The large ma­jor­ity of “cus­tomers” were stu­dents, but a few par­ents also took a sit and a snip.

For some, the vol­un­teers are a boon. “Teachers told chil­dren to cut their hair but I could not af­ford hair­cuts at the sa­lon. Luck­ily, they’ve come to­day,” says a mother of four.

For oth­ers, the vol­un­teers are a wel­come dis­trac­tion. A 7-year-old once asked a vol­un­teer to re­pro­duce the hair­style of his favourite foot­ball player. The rest of the au­di­ence stared all through the process, in awe.

Not only the vol­un­teers learn how to fi­nesse a hair­style, but they also learn how to han­dle dif­fi­cult cus­tomer. (It turned out that the wanna-be foot­baller had not asked his mum for per­mis­sion).

Chan Chan is al­most done with her three-months-train­ing at Gal­lant Home Hair Train­ing School. This is the sec­ond time she joins the vol­un­teers. The first time she came along, she was ter­ri­fied at the thought of ap­ply­ing what she had learned on rea l hu­man hair. But af­ter a first try, she re­alised she was fine.

“Cus­tomers” in Ywar Thar Gyi are more pa­tient and their ex­pec­ta­tions are lower. But they come with a lot of other dif­fi­cul­ties. For in­stance, she says, not all of them wash their hair ahead of the hair­cut. “As I combed their hair, lice were fall­ing off,” she says while shiv­er­ing with dis­gust.

But a few bugs won’t stop her. “Here I have fun,” she says. She also has a sense of re­ward when she’s done a good job.

Most im­por­tantly, she is build­ing con­fi­dence. She’s also pro­vid­ing ad­vice to newer re­cruits. “They asked me lots of ques­tions”, she proudly says.

Ad­di­tion­ally, the Bud­dhist mem­bers of the group are gain­ing some merit for do­ing char­i­ta­ble work. “They are do­ing good deeds,” says Khin Maung Myint, an of­fi­cer at the sta­tion. As long as they don’t bother pas­sen­gers, he is happy to have the vol­un­teers com­ing and cut­ting.

Grow­ing hair - grow­ing needs Pan Pan, who is an ex­per­i­mented hair­dresser now, had the idea of set­ting up this op­er­a­tion back in 2007 when she was learn­ing. At that time, her pro­fes­sors sent here to blind schools to prac­tice.

She opened Gal­lant Home Hair Train­ing School but she wanted to con­tinue the char­ity work. One of her trainee liv­ing in Ywar Thar Gyi in­formed her of the dire sit­u­a­tion of the peo­ple in this area. She de­cided a hair cut would help the poor­est gain dig­nity. Her team also goes to North Okkalapa and North Dagon, two other rel­a­tively poor ar­eas of Yangon.

The first time she went there to seek for per­mis­sion, of­fi­cials feted her. Not only she was granted all the ap­proval she needed, but she was asked to cut peo­ple’s hair all day. If it was a test, she passed it with fly­ing colours.

Now de­mand for her ser­vices is high. Her vol­un­teers only come when they have some spare time. What a dis­ap­point­ment it was when no­body showed up be­fore Shin­byu, the cer­e­mony where young boys are made novices (and for which a neat hair­cut is rec­om­mended).

Many in Ywar Thar Gyi went to the monastery and shaved for Thyn­gyan. The num­ber of cus­tomers has re­duced. Still, when leav­ing the sta­tion the day Week­end paid the vol­un­teers a visit, a kid launched: “Please make sure to come next month.”

Photos: Nyo Me

A vol­un­teer cut a chil­dren’s hair, Ywar Thar Gyi train sta­tion, June 2018.

A vol­un­teer get an un­cle a hair­cut, Ywar Thar Gyi train sta­tion, June 2018.

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