Hong Kong Homies is a series where we get deep real fast with Hongkongers.
Martin Lam, 40s, Hairdresser
I started giving free haircuts mainly to the elderly and the intellectually disabled five years ago. I began volunteering because of my late wife. She had cancer, and I prayed to God, saying, “Please let her get better. I’d volunteer the rest of my life in return.” But in the end, she did not win the fight against cancer.
I decided to fulfill my promise to God nonetheless, because I learned from that experience that there are many people out there who need our help, especially cancer patients. They not only have to deal with the sickness but what the sickness does to their minds.
When my wife received her diagnosis, she felt like she had been handed a death sentence. The disease was physical as much as it was psychological. When her hair started falling out during chemotherapy, it was important to have someone style her hair and make her look and feel better.
When I started volunteering, I thought I was being selfish, because I was doing it to feel less lonely. But gradually, I stopped thinking that. I decided to help others just for the sake of helping others, asking for nothing in return. That’s the spirit of volunteering. Through doing so, I have lifted myself out of the depression following my wife’s death. I have found another version of me; a new way to live.
I started volunteering just by myself, gradually getting to know other volunteers and later founding volunteering group which now has more than 60 members. It is incredible how serving others has linked me up with so many like-minded individuals who are passionate about the same cause. We sometimes cut the hair of hundreds of people a morning.
One organization actually asked us to come up with “trendier hairstyles,” because hairdressers always give the intellectually disabled cuts that look like they just got out of prison. If they sport a more presentable haircut, it actually helps with their chances of getting work.
We are the first volunteer group to give blow-drying services as well. We really want to make the haircutting experience as pleasant as possible. We’ve had some elderly go from not wanting their haircut at all — because past hairdressers “made them look ugly” — to leaving our temporary salon with a smile.
One of my most memorable experiences is cutting the hair of an elderly woman who picks up cardboards for a living. She hasn’t washed and cut her hair in a long time — her hair was sticky and unclean. After the haircut, she told me many things. She said she earned only $15 a day and the free haircut saved her two meals. She thanked me for not minding her dirty hair and for making her look beautiful. It really put volunteering into context for me — I realized then that a simple act of yours really can mean a big deal to others.
I’m most grateful for having a strong body. It allows me to help other people. Your body is not for pure enjoyment, but for helping others, for giving. Once you’ve been on the side of the person in need, you realize how important it is to give back. Volunteering is much more important than money, traveling or any kind of material success to me. It connects me with other people and it fills my days with lovely memories.
My life motto? Helping others is the greatest source of happiness. But even helping others is a tricky art. When you volunteer, it’s all about your heart; whether or not you treat people with sincerity. For me, volunteering is not just about one free haircut, but how to help so that the person on the receiving end leaves with a smile and confidence.
Martin Lam is interested in offering free haircuts to more people in need. Whatsapp Martin at 6187-7884 for more details.