Last year, Rebecca McLeod rangher husband and said she was going to Indonesia with Australian humanitarian group Hair Aid to teach hairdressing skills to women living in critical poverty and give them a second chance in life.
“He went, ‘OK’ and I booked that day,” says Rebecca. “I put my name down, started fundraising and three months later I was in Indonesia on a five-day project.”
Rebecca, 40, a facilitator at the Australian Hairdressing Council who lives in Burleigh Heads, Queensland, was already part of Hair Aid Community Cuts, an Australia-wide initiative recruiting and coordinating professional hairdressers to provide haircuts for the homeless, migrants, victims of domestic abuse or anyone suffering at a time of crisis.
“I started at Gold Coast Youth Service in Miami and would go there on a Wednesday to provide haircuts for any of the youth,” she says. “Some were just starting out, being rehoused or going for job interviews, and it was an opportunity to help them feel their best for whatever they were trying to achieve.”
After extending her involvement to giving haircuts to homeless people in parks on the Gold Coast, Rebecca became passionate about joining Hair Aid’s international projects. Professional hairdressers travel to Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand and the Philippines to teach hairdressing skills to women and children living in poverty.
In 2018, Rebecca visited a women’s refuge in Indonesia where many people had been rescued from the sex trade. Without work skills, they couldn’t provide food or clothing for their children. Rebecca and a team of volunteer hairdressers spent five days teaching five basic haircuts, allowing the women to start a micro business and gain an income.
“They’re not qualified hairdressers that can colour hair or anything like that,” she says. “They’re just given the skills so that if they want to go and sit in a plastic chair, or sit in the gutter, and do a haircut, they can.
“They earn as much money from one haircut as they could in a week selling rubbish from the tip. That’s what a lot of them do. There aren’t a lot of options.”
In September, Rebecca became project leader for Hair Aid’s first visit to the women inside the infamous prison at Kerobokan in Bali.
“We didn’t know what the conditions would be like, if it would be hostile or a welcoming environment,” she says. “But from the minute we walked in the door, we realised we were welcomed.”
Rebecca has always believed in helping others, no matter who or where they are. “Whether you’re talking about a 14-year-old in the youth services’ centre or a 60-year-old woman in the women’s prison, their whole life might have spiralled because of circumstances beyond their control.
“I’ve always tried to help people. I was the child that used to rescue the cats and the dogs.
“It’s part of being a hairdresser as well. We like to make people feel good about themselves and we like to interact with people from all different walks of life.”