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Leslie Henshaw: Changing lives through teaching others

Wendy Johnson

They live in shanty towns, slums and on the streets and are desperate to make enough money to survive.

Figures vary, with some saying four million slum dwellers live in Quezon City, Manila, with many calling the streets ‘home’.

Hair Aid's training salon in Quezon City

Hair Aid’s training salon in Quezon City

Canberra’s Leslie Henshaw, from Next Hair, was humbled by what he saw on his first trip to the poverty-stricken area, but motivated to help in his own small way through Hair Aid, a not-for-profit organisation that teaches haircutting to street people in the Philippines. The students use their new-found skills to make money.

Leslie’s motivation remains high and he’s volunteering to do more training in January. He donates his time and is the only Canberran who has worked with Hair Aid on this special project.


The first time Leslie won his place through a competition and was sponsored by the Australian Hairdressing Council. This time he raised more than $2,000 to pay for his place in the program through ‘Bespoke’, a fund-raising fashion show he organised.

Leslie lands in the Philippines on 9 January and will work on a team of seven hairdressers who will train students over five days.

“We work with the poorest of the families so they can learn livelihood skills and earn money to feed, clothe and house themselves and their children,” says Leslie. “It’s not always easy but so worthwhile. The students don’t speak English so we work through a translator. They have zero knowledge base and so patience is a virtue.”

It’s not the type of ‘holiday’ everyone would be keen to experience. Working conditions for the hairdressers are challenging (although heavenly compared to the living conditions of the students).

Bernie Craven, Hair Project Leader and co-founder of Hair Aid, says the hairdressers train onsite, right in the slums. “Sometimes it’s in some sort of building, sometimes under an awning in the middle of a community and we’ve even trained on a basketball court,” says Bernie.

Leslie in Quezon City

Leslie in Quezon City

The teaching improves every year and is designed around learning hairdressing skills. Women’s hair is covered first, then men’s. The last day, for a bit of fun, Hair Aid covers hair styling before the students graduate.

“We’re there to give the students as much experience as we can in five days, so they can walk away and start earning money,” says Leslie.

Leslie cutting hair in Quezon City

Leslie cutting hair in Quezon City

Teaching includes how to use tools of the trade, and care for them. Cutting straight lines, layering, cutting to face shapes, and managing short hair are also taught.

Excellent Edges, an Australia hair supply company, donates scissors, clips, capes, blower dryers and other equipment. Industry greats in the hairdressing also give their time to Hair Aid, including Benny Tognini from Brisbane, Emiliano Vitale from e Salon in Sydney and Caterina Di Biase from Heading Out in Melbourne.

Some happy Hair Aid clients

Some happy Hair Aid clients

Bernie says it’s fantastic to have big names participate, but equally rewarding for Hair Aid to have upcoming hairdressers involved. “Leslie was very valuable during his first trip,” says Bernie. “It takes a lot of time and effort and it’s great to see the younger ones being part of it.”

Hair Aid has been sending qualified hairdressers to Manila for nine years—up to six times a year. In 2016, up to 240 students will be taught. But does the program really work? You bet.

“We hear some amazing stories,” says Bernie. “A female student started to make enough money that she could stop prostituting her daughter of 11 years old. A male student, who was living on the street, now has his own little house.”

To read more about Leslie, Bernie and Hair Aid’s journey, visit their website.

All images courtesy of Hair Aid 

Wendy Johnson

Wendy Johnson graduated with a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, a few decades ago. She’s been living in Australia since 1995, having fallen in love with eucalypt trees and kangaroos. Wendy is passionate about Canberra and all the nation’s capital has to offer. She loves to write (about everything and anything) and owns her own pr and advertising business. More about the Author