WHEN Colin McAndrew, owner of the Medusa hair salon group, returned from two weeks as a UNICEF ambassador in Vietnam, he was in shock for more than a week.
“Before going I thought I’d find it highly emotional, but when I was there I just got on with it. It was full-on and demanding. When I got back I didn’t feel elated or fulfilled by the experience,” Colin said.
“For about 10 days I felt nothing. Only when one of my team suggested it had affected me more than I realised did it really hit home. It was as if I was shell-shocked, Now I can’t stop talking about it.”
The hairdresser spent 11 days training 25 young people from the poverty-stricken slums of Ho Chi Minh City.
Just one of two ambassadors from the UK on the programme, Colin went to Vietnam as part of Making Waves, a long-term partnership between haircare manufacturer Wella and children’s charity UNICEF.
The programme aims to transform the lives of vulnerable young people through hairdressing training, mentoring and life skills education.
Since its launch in 2010, the partnership has empowered more than 31,000 young people in Brazil and Romania by taking top hairdressers to impoverished areas to provide expert tuition.
This year the programme launched into Vietnam, with seven highly respected hairdressers from six countries, including Colin from Scotland, chosen to mentor 25 young people from vulnerable groups – such as working adolescents, orphans, children from very poor families and those at risk of abuse, neglect or violence.
“These are kids that without Making Waves would have no future; no chance of a job, let alone a career, and no chance of ever living anywhere except the slums of Ho Chi Minh City. We went there to give them hope by training them to be hairdressers.
“It was very rudimentary; we only had two weeks but covered basic hairdressing skills, including cutting, highlighting and client care. And we talked about our own experiences to inspire them further,” Colin added.
“Their intensity and determination to learn were breathtaking. Every morning they returned with the same enthusiasm, getting up close to watch intently as I styled the hair.”
Colin was also singled out from the seven mentors to help train the Vietnamese teachers at the hair school where the students will continue their education for a further four months until they are qualified. They asked him to show how to do a Victoria Beckham bob, and he did.
“Even in the slums of Vietnam, they know what her latest look is,” he laughs.
It wasn’t the first time Colin has been in the emotionally draining position of working with vulnerable youngsters. He went to Romania on his own volition to work with youngsters in the orphanages and he currently mentors a disadvantaged 16-year-old in Edinburgh.
“I’m aware of the challenges they may face. I certainly wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I’ve worked hard to get where I am. I know it sounds clichéd but I feel it enriches my life to go to the “chalkface” to help rather than just raise money – although that is equally essential to these charities. I’ve been lucky in my career and I’d like to pass that on to others,’ says Colin.
“And, fortunately, I’ve got a great team behind me, supporting and encouraging me, and being the sort of great, self-motivated crowd that can give me the freedom to leave my business for two whole weeks, knowing everything will be okay while I’m away.”