Wella-UNICEF Making Waves 2016 begins…

Halfway through a long flight to Ho Chi Minh City via Kuala Lumpur and currently flying over places I am ashamed to say I have never heard of I am contemplating all that today brings. I am amazingly lucky to be given the chance to attend my second Making Waves mentor trip with Wella and UNICEF and that brings feelings of responsibility just as it did last year. Making Waves is a project that delivers hairdressing and life skills education to vulnerable teenagers in three countries around the globe, a project that I had first hand experience with in 2015 as a mentor in Piatra Neamt, Romania.  

Since discovering that I had been selected from a group of incredibly talented, creative and generally brilliant people to join an international team of 9 mentors in Vietnam this year I have had a range of emotions. The fears and insecurities relating to the trip over the past few weeks have now been replaced with an incredible excitement for the things and places we’ll see and experience over the coming weeks. 

 There is naturally some apprehension as there will be some difficult stories to hear and tough experiences ahead. I’m also feeling the sadness in my heart as a result of waving goodbye to my awesome boyfriend for three weeks this morning, a feeling that I know will remain right there for the duration of the trip.  

Above all this though, is the pride I have for this project, with the knowledge of the incredible changes it makes to the students’ self esteem, practical skills and ultimately – their lives. This project allows them to create a brighter future for themselves, which is a powerful thing when you understand some of the horrors that these children have had to cope with in their lives so far. Making Waves creates nothing but positive experiences for all the students involved as well as the extended network of people that are touched by the project, of which I will share as much with you as is appropriate as I discover more. 

I’m honoured to have this chance again. This chance to be a part of an amazing group of mentors from around the globe, who over the past 24 hours have one by one left their homes and loved ones to come and share as much knowledge as possible with another group of teenagers who need the chance more than we could even begin to imagine.

All the mentors are now on their way… Wella-UNICEF Making Waves 2016 has begun!

❤️ #wellalove #wellalife 

The next chapter…

The next chapter…

A few weeks ago I received an email inviting me to re-apply as a mentor on the 2016 Wella-UNICEF Making Waves Programme to Vietnam.  It was an offer that I had not expected but I was told that to celebrate 2016 being the 5th year of the project the decision had been made only to invite former mentors for another life changing trip working with vulnerable teenagers in Ho Chi Minh.

My initial thought upon reading the email was… there’s no way I can do this.  A knee jerk reaction that admittedly only lasted about 5 minutes but a strong reaction nevertheless.  I was able to list a few reasons for this once I had time to process.  Firstly, as anyone who knows me is fully aware, I feel such a huge allegiance with Romania and its people after spending over three weeks there during 2015 I initially felt like it would almost be a betrayal to move on to another location.

Secondly, and I knew this sounded daft as it crossed my mind, but a second trip just wouldn’t be the same.  Every time I think of the experience I had in Romania with the country, my fellow mentors, our mentees, our support staff in the way of our #wellafamily (Jenna, Shar, Vero and Gita), translators (that’s you Domnisoara Lilly and Domnisoara Nadia!) and the Romanian team (Felicia, Brindusa, my beautiful friends Ana-Maria and yes, you too Adie) I am filled with such emotion and pride that I simply could not imagine ever replicating the experience again.

Thirdly, and ridiculously, Vietnam is a long way to go.  I can’t even explain this one.  It’s not a normal train of thought for me but there we are – it crossed my mind.

And lastly, my family are going through a tough time right now and I wasn’t sure if it was an appropriate moment to be leaving for that length of time. I wasn’t sure that I could.

But… as I said these thoughts were short lived and within 5 minutes I knew I would be submitting the application form before the deadline and keeping my fingers (and everything else) crossed in the meantime.  The two most important people came first.  I called my Mum who is currently undergoing a long long course of chemotherapy to tell her the potential good news and have a chat with her about whether she was comfortable with me leaving the country for this period of time.  As ever Mum was incredibly positive and supportive and told me to get out there, live my life, and show another group of students a great time just like we all had in Romania.  Mum, you’re a constant inspiration and I love you for your infectious positivity.

I then called my boyfriend Rob, who was ardently positive and the thought that I wouldn’t apply didn’t even seem to cross his mind.  Rob selflessly gave me 100% enthusiasm and offered to be a pillar of support during the application process and beyond.  Yet another reminder of how lucky I am to have met this brilliant man!

It took me a little longer, maybe two weeks, to get my head around the other points even though I started writing my application that very weekend.  Of course the trip wouldn’t be ‘the same’ but the simple fact that it would be taking place in a different country and culture with an entirely different group of mentors and mentees just had to be a good thing.  There would be no comparisons and in no way would lessen my feelings towards my original experience.

Taking even longer to get my head around was the emotional attachment I feel towards my Romanian Wella family encompassing all the people I so briefly listed earlier.  The hashtag #wellafamily is widely used but I’m sure few people outside of our fantastic industry truly realise the weight it carries for all of us who use it.  I have never before experienced such an immediate connection with everyone within our #wellafam especially those of us who have taken part in a Making Waves project.  Whenever we meet there is a feeling of mutual respect, understanding and FUN that doesn’t exist in the same way elsewhere and I’m particularly thinking of a brilliant weekend spent with Ana-Maria and Adie as well as Emma and Melanie who were in Romania in 2014 when we got together last October.

But I have a huge heart, and although I feel such an emotional attachment I genuinely believe that there should be no limit to sharing our knowledge as hairdressers.  Especially when it comes to sharing that knowledge with people who can really use it to transform their lives in such a monumental way.  I constantly think of the transformation of our 25 students in class last year and their visible personal and skills growth during our precious two weeks together.

So by the time I pressed send on the email submitting my application some three weeks later I was full of hope that I would get a positive response, knowing that there were many other incredible people across the globe applying with the same intentions.  I was overwhelmed when I opened the email telling me that I had been selected as one of two UK mentors along with the fantastic Colin McAndrew from Medusa in Edinburgh.  Again, it took a few weeks for this piece of information to really sink in and since then I have felt everything from discombobulated to fear to enthusiastic but above all else I feel hugely excited for the adventure that lies ahead.

I am proud to represent the UK on this project alongside Colin, and am excited to meet and work with our 2016 mentors: Antonio La Palermo (Germany), Andrea Moxey (Australia), Giorgio Cristaldi (Italy), Noora Kangas-Kuuti (Finland), Luciano Cañete (Spain), Bernadette Eshuis (Netherlands) and Alexandra Matiz (USA).  We will all meet for the first time on 9th September when we arrive in Vietnam!

But above all I am excited that all of us will get the chance to make the same kind of difference to yet another group of children.  In the first four years Making Waves has empowered more than 31,000 vulnerable young people through life skills education and hairdressing training and has touched the lives of many more.  Thank you Wella for providing such opportunities so quietly, I have never been so proud to be affiliated with a company in this way and I can’t wait to help make 2016 another fantastic year for Making Waves and its students.

 

#wellalove #makingwaves

Stars can’t shine without darkness 

Day 6, Wednesday 26th August

 

There was another bright and sunny start to the day today as the Wella UNICEF Making Waves team met for an early breakfast at our pension. Half of the team, myself included, were out of the class for most of the day yesterday with UNICEF visiting some outlying areas that are supported by the amazing network of social workers also funded by the project so I was looking forward to getting back into the centre today and teaching our incredible group.

 
Our short taxi journeys from one side of Piatra Neamt to the other each morning and night were becoming strategic, with each of us judging how safe a driver each taxi contained as they pulled into the long drives of both the pension and the centre, choosing our ride purely on whether the drivers looked safe to wp_20150826_08_30_52_pro__highresride with and how hard they slammed on the brakes when they ground to a halt! We were all trying to avoid a rallying trip through town using mainly the hard shoulder and the car horns to get us from A to B. The taxi journeys each morning were a bit of a ritual for me by now, often taken without much chat. Partly due to the fact that I’m really not a morning person and partly due to wanting to take in the amazing countryside flashing past in as much calm as possible, knowing that we always had a busy and demanding day ahead, handing over as much advice, knowledge and support in the precious amount of time that we had.

 
My good friend Hanne, from Norway, started the day in class by sharing her inspiring story with us all and after a group hug, another brilliant daily ritual, we got down to business. The Graduated Bob technique was the aim of the day, which I was nervous about as it is a technique that I am particular about and produces a beautiful and classic shape when executed correctly but is also easy to create a disaster on the head if not. Our mentor from Germany, Tim, was holding the demonstration today and step by step we all took our students through the technique. I don’t think any of us were prepared for this one haircut taking the full day to carry out due the amount of precision this technique requires. I can’t lie, it was a very tough day for us all but aside from a few struggles, all of the students managed to complete the haircut and all seemed very happy with their results. I had the absolute pleasure of working with three very special students, all of whom produced great work.

One thing really stood out for me today though, and that is the dynamic of the people that live within the walls of this amazing and magical place. I absolutely cannot publish here any of the individual stories about any of our students but today I had my first true view on how tough life is for these children. One of my students had an older friend in class today, who was not taking part in the course but was a great help to me with translation and support for the individual concerned. Clearly the system here of children sharing apartments containing different age groups pays dividends in the compassion and support shared between all of them and it was great to see this in action. There really is a feeling of mentoring running through every level of this place.

 
Even as the day began in class I was acutely aware of tension radiating from one of my students and I was at times genuinely concerned for this individual, even though the determination for the task at hand did not wane and the technique was completed amazingly well. All I could do was offer my support wherever possible, show a little compassion during the food breaks and just be there, whatever was causing this troubled mind. I did not realise that these little gestures of support and simple kindness would mean so much, but over the coming days I heard more about this heart breaking story and bonds were made between mentor and mentee that will last a lifetime. I feel privileged to have shared these few hours in a way that meant so much and still do as much as possible from afar to provide a positive role model for this student. It tears me apart that these children who are so appreciative, so grateful and so determined have had such a bad start in life, a start that no child deserves but shapes their futures in such a monumental way.

Today was a day of patience and the beginning of a short, sharp lesson on what life is really about. I know that every one of us mentors was beginning to feel the same by the middle of our first week.  It is a lesson that I shall be forever grateful for and the reason that Romania and the people I met there will forever be in my heart.  I miss you all (mi-e dor de tine toate).

 
#wellalove #makingwaves ❤️

People are praying for the things we take for granted

People are praying for the things we take for granted

Day five, Tuesday 25th August 2015

The day started today with so many hugs, smiles, kisses and high fives between the students and mentors, that there was a real sense of excitement from the moment the students entered the room.  Now we are all beginning to get to know each other this place holds a certain magic, I feel that we are amazingly lucky to be able to work with these wonderful teenagers in their home.

Each day one or two of the mentors will tell a story to help inspire the students towards their hairdressing futures.  Tim Kreutzfeldt from Germany took his turn first of all this morning and spoke to the students about his history working in London and Lisbon before returning to Germany to open his salon Pony Club in Berlin.  As a Reiki healer, he also shared with us all some of his healing techniques and after the initial buzz in the room we all shared a moment of spiritual calm.

I had the opportunity today, along with half of the mentor group to head out into more rural villages on a field trip with UNICEF whilst the other half stayed at the centre teaching our students.  Yet again, I had no idea what to expect as we travelled by coach into a neighbouring county but our first stop was a visit to a new school building.  imageOur tour guide was the local head teacher who was super glam in her own way and gave us a very warm welcome.  The school had a positive feeling and was nicely equipped, although the computer room would probably be a shock to our UK school kids.  Everything looked spotless and we all spent a lot of time looking at the work on the class room walls which ranged from language to nature to recycling to national costume.  There was even a wall of photos showing the children dressed in costumes from the Wizard of Oz!

image

We then travelled a little further to a second school which was an older building and reminded me exactly of where I went to junior school in Southampton with its solid walls and dark corridors.  The thing I loved most about this place was the smell of the fresh paint and sticky floor varnish, everything ready for the children to come running back in after their summer holidays in two weeks time.  I remember that smell so well!

image

One thing that struck me at both schools was the obvious presence of education of anti violence.  The first school displayed a board of posters made by the younger children very much like the ones I remember making on issues like road safety.  The second displayed the graphic poster shown here.  For me this put a little perspective on how prevalent child abuse must be in some communities here and the important role of education in moving these cultures on to provide a safer and happier environment for the children.

image

The second school opened in 1890 on land donated by a local farmer.  The school still bears the farmer’s name and the original school building dating from 1890 still stands on the land today shown in the picture above.  Poignant that 125 years after the school opened this community still requires outside help to be able to provide things we take for granted at home.

image

 

Next stop on our tour was a lucky visit to the local Mayoral office along with the local social workers for tea and cake.  This guy is no ordinary Mayor!  When it snows, the Mayor drives the snow plough himself to allow the children to get to school.  When the children need vaccinations at the hospital, the Mayor drives them.  Just two examples of how much this man really does for his local community.  He told us that even his official meetings with other adults were helped along by the cuddly toys you see on the walls and have been known to come off the shelves even in those situations!

During this meal the Social Workers spoke to us with visible emotion, passion and pride in their eyes about how they work tirelessly in the communities, with schools, parents and the children helping all they can to try their best to avoid children ending up in the system.

imageWithout the social workers these communities would have little or no awareness or access to services, education and healthcare so desperately needed.  I was shocked but immensely proud to learn that these social workers are not paid by the Romanian local authorities or government but funded by the Wella-UNICEF Making Waves Program.  It is a huge testiment to the program that we were unaware of that fact until this point, and highlights how little Wella shout about the amazing work they do behind the scenes.  True charity.

image

We then progressed to the first of two home visits.  The first house was a long way up a sloping dirt track and surrounded by sunflower fields for as far as the eye can see.  UNICEF were particularly sensitive about our visit to this house due to the nature of the home lives of these poorest of Romanian families.  We were advised to wait on the road and enter the house in small groups of just three or four people and I was part of the last group to enter.  The last thing we wanted was to make this family feel like a tourist attraction.  The one storey house sat in a small beautifully kept plot surrounded by grass and flowers.  The house had just two small rooms with an adjoining hallway and no kitchen and it’s residents were a Mother, daughter of around 14 years of age and a severely disabled 10 year old son who rested in his Mother’s arms like a baby.  We didn’t stay too long as the young lad was starting to cry at another group of strange voices asking questions and chatting so we left the main room and exited through the net curtain hung at the door.

Walking back out to the dirt track I could see that a couple of the girls were standing by the edge of the sunflower fields discreetly crying.  Although not moved to tears myself I couldn’t help but wonder how a Mother can cope living alone a mile up a dirt track into farm land with no kitchen or running water, especially in the harsh winters that occur here, before you even begin to consider how she copes alone with two children, one so severely disabled.  There was a real sense in that house of care and of love but there was also a strange quiet stillness which I can only describe as a feeling of conceded helplessness.  In these beautiful rolling hills and lakes covered in sunshine we could easily have been sipping wine and eating great food in the richest parts of Italy but bang in the middle of the endless magnificent sunflowers was the most extreme poverty most of us had ever been faced with and we were shocked.  Whenever I see sunflowers I will forever think of this family and hope that they are well.

image

Our second home visit was to a similar style home but this one felt less stuck out on its own and more part of a community because it was closer to other homes.  With a larger garden complete with chickens and dogs, this home had the same layout of two rooms from an adjoining hallway plus the addition of a kitchen set back from one of the rooms.  The difference here was that this small building was home to a grandmother, mother, and a total of 11 children.  Imagine.  Apparently the father works away with one of the elder children in order to provide.  We spent some time discussing their lives in the house, playing with the children and reminding them (with grandmothers help) that they needed to work hard at school!  I remember seeing bottles of deodorant and shower gel proudly lined up on top of a sideboard displayed just as if they were bottles of Chanel No.5 and making a mental note to treat the basic things at home with more care.

With a warm smile and waves from grandmother standing at the gate we set off again on our coach to a restaurant for a late lunch and I drifted off into my thoughts.  Earlier in the day our Headmistress school guide had told us that in the village the only opportunity available for young people here is for them to leave.  No one ever returns to the village to help because there is simply nothing here to return to, and this was demonstrated by the absence of two fathers and an older child who were all working away in the homes we visited.  I despair at the thought of being a young teenager here with no job prospects and nothing to do and wonder how an earth they get through their days with such a bleak future ahead.  Chance and opportunity seem like absolute luxuries here and I am honestly left feeling completely dumbfounded.  Hope is a huge motivator for me on a daily basis and I’m struggling to find a glimpse of hope in this place for the kids.  It makes me feel so sad.  The fact that they all appear so respectful is a massive compliment to the community.  Today was the first real moment that I wanted to take people home with me.

#wellalove #makingwaves ❤️

 

 

Bright Futures

Tuesday 24th November 2015

I am so impressed! I spent the day today in a workshop with the students for the first time since we all left in September and, just wow, they have progressed such a long way!

image

When we left two and a half months ago our students had gained so much from their time with us (as we had from them) but there were only a small handful who at that particular time I really felt were truly grasping the techniques to a more professional level. But today, every one of the students tackled their (real live) models with a totally different attitude, showing a natural ability to handle hair, no fear, and a clear knowledge and understanding of the task and technique.

image

This isn’t to say that earlier in the year the project wasn’t doing it’s job. Everyone connected with Making Waves is involved with such a passion for the Program I find it truly inspiring to be around. The teachers in class with the students throughout the year, unsung heroes Ana Maria and Brindusa, fill me with admiration at their total skill of being able to pass on their expert knowledge to so many students at one time. In my salon we tend to teach maybe 3 or 4 students each at a time but here Ana Maria and Brindusa must tackle the needs of 12 to 25 students at once. Both the students and the program are incredibly lucky to have such dedicated and talented people on board and I am proud to call them my friends.

image

I can’t speak for educators of other industries but I find with hairdressing there tends to be a bit of a slow burn at first, everything feels strange and alien. As a student, new techniques are constantly coming your way and it can feel hard to keep up or believe that you will ever reach your goal. But then, around three quarters of the way through a training programme, all of a sudden things start to click and fall into place. From that moment the pace at which the students progress quickens to an almost alarming rate as they gain understanding of the techniques they have been repeatedly practising. This understanding means that they can start to break the rules they have learned, new shapes are created and anything becomes possible. The work stops feeling like a struggle or a chore and becomes genuinely exciting. Possibilities are endless and passion takes the place of frustration. It is this passion and excitement that makes hairdressing such an amazing job and hairdressers such incredible people to be around. We never stop learning and for us, life is therefore full of possibility with an almost childlike sense of awe and wonderment.

image

I remember when I first came to Romania in August I wanted to try and share a few of the reasons why I love my job to as many students as possible. I am filled to the brim with joy as I see that the children have made that giant leap from being students to to taking charge of their own work. This change demonstrates how much confidence and self belief they have gained from this project completely above the technical hairdressing skills. For these children with their backgrounds this change is priceless.  Let me point out again that this project exists purely because of the warm beating heart of the Wella company. Today I can see the excitement in the students eyes while they work and know for myself how this feels. With their newfound skill and confidence they have hope for the future.  No one can ever take this away from them and with hope in your heart life will always be bright.

image

#wellalove #makingwaves ❤️

Choice, chance, change.

Thursday 19th November 2015

I am on my way back. It feels odd sat writing on a flight to Romania again, in exactly the same way that I did just three months ago. For some reason this post was harder to begin than all of the others.

“Why?” Seems to be the obvious place to start, and the honest answer to that is the children. In just two weeks time the 25 students on the 2015 Piatra Neamt Making Waves program take their final exam, qualify, receive their certificates and will then begin to go their separate ways. I want to see them all as a group before I lose the opportunity to see their beautiful smiles and experience that same group hug one more time. In addition, I want to have just a few more chances to impart as much knowledge and inspiration as I can before it is too late. It is vital for these kids to go on in 2016 with confidence and self belief in order to progress with their hairdressing talents (and they do possess talent) and be able to carve futures for themselves.

Thinking of their futures makes me feel very emotional. I am acutely aware of how the world has dealt our kids in Piatra Neamt such a hard hand to play. Back at home our teenagers have so much choice and we do not realise how much of a luxury simple choice really is. Faced with so many choices back home there seems to be so much angst, self pity and apathy for life. School, college, free education, apprenticeships, job opportunities, travel, where to go this weekend….. The vast amount of choice at home should make us all feel particularly lucky. All teenagers should feel fire in their bellies when thinking about their futures with new ideas, rebellious streaks, hungry ambitions and the feeling that they can take on the world. Our guys and girls in Piatra Neamt will have to fight much harder at life and really carve themselves a niche, probably in a job they have had to take rather than one they have chosen at length, in order to survive. One 17 year old lad on the course said to me that he did not particularly want to become a hairdresser originally, but applied for the course simply because it was an opportunity, and he may never receive such an opportunity again. Luckily for him, he ended up enjoying the course and doing well. Value the endless choices we have at home, they are not within the reach of everybody in the world.

My third reason for returning to Piatra Neamt is that the children on the project have been disappointed and let down so much in life, and in some small way I hope that by returning I can show that they have not been forgotten. On this trip it is my aim to back up the feeling that the whole group has us as mentors rooting for them, believing in them and are prouder of them than they could ever realise. They need to know that our support as mentors continues wholly.

image

This return visit is particularly timely in relation to the above reason as I have spent the last weekend in Berlin having a superb reunion with my fellow mentors. It was both strange and delightful being in a city that was new to me with people I love and am immensely proud to call my friends. I return to Romania with a hugely long list of well wishes, promises of hugs and a general feeling of love from the entire mentor group. I promise you all that I carry all of your emotions with me to Piatra Neamt and will deposit them safely just as you intended to the individuals specified.

At this stage I cannot express how I feel about returning. I had a moment yesterday while thinking about the trip that brought intense happiness, a huge smile and goosebumps of excitement at the thought of being back in Romania. I look forward to seeing the change in the students and the progression of their skills after nearly three months away. I have none of the questions of last time as I know what to expect. Today I am experiencing an underlying feeling of sadness, but no matter how much I try to go to that place I have so far been unable to put my finger on what that feeling is about. Perhaps I know that there is only so much I can do.

Ultimately though, back in September standing in the courtyard garden of the centre, surrounded by students, mentors, music, laughter, food, dance and love, there was a moment of realisation that I had never felt so blissfully happy. So much so that at that moment, I left a piece of my heart with all of those people and at that place. I feel thrilled and lucky to be heading back. Piatra Neamt will always feel like home.

#wellalove ❤️ #makingwaves

The gift of giving

The gift of giving

Day four, Monday 24th August 2015

(Please note that the names of our students have been abbreviated to protect their identity).

image

Our first day with the students! Us mentors were SO nervous in the salon first thing, you could almost taste the anticipation. At 9am 25 teenagers filed curiously into the room also looking nervous so we were not alone with our feelings. However, there was also something else in the air: an electric and almost overwhelming sense of excitement.

imageAfter some general introductions we plunged straight into an ice breaker name game where the children had to place the correct name and country with each of us mentors. They very quickly got everything correct which put immense pressure on us remembering all 25 names correctly too, we didn’t want to have anyone feeling forgotten at this early stage! Luckily, with a bit of teamwork (and a slight strategy) we got there too, perfect start!

By surprise, another game was suggested by the students. We all had to stand in a circle, one person started by saying their name and doing an action to go with it. The second person had to repeat the first persons name and action before they did their own and so on and so forth. So much to remember with 34 people in this circle! Luckily I was one of the first so could remember all of mine but with a lot of help from everyone we got around the full circle in the end. This game cannot be talked about without mentioning Ell’s epic attempt at M’s breakdancing and Tim’s fabulous finger clicking “no way!” contribution which is destined to become a legendary phrase of our trip!

image

image

Our official training started with an introduction on how to carry out a consultation with a client. In small groups we helped the students role play a consultation with each other. Then we moved on to a practical session of shampoo training with the students which created a hive of activity in the room. Ell used me as a model to demonstrate the way we shampoo and condition hair at the backwash, and told the students about the importance of this as it it always a favourite part of a clients visit to a salon. One of the students (P) blow dried my hair after I had it washed and I was so genuinely impressed by the perfect finish she achieved I spent the rest of the session going around showing and telling everyone! We all took turns in helping the students shampoo each other’s hair and then blow dry.

After this part of the session it was time for lunch. I have to explain before taking you all to lunch with us that during our ice breaker games there was a student who wouldn’t take part. It seemed a shame but whether this guy was too shy or too cool for school he wouldn’t follow his friends in joining the rest of the group for this initial session. I happened to be at the backwash when this guy (L) came to shampoo his model and he did really well with just a few little pointers from me. At first L wouldn’t look me in the eye but after lots of praise and a pat on the shoulder in congratulations, he looked me in the eyes and smiled. So, back to lunch, us mentors were a little later to lunch than the students as we had a quick gathering to check that the morning went okay for us all. I was even later as I was giving praise to one of our interpreters Lilly, as I was amazed at how she could listen, speak and think two languages all at the same time! (Lilly, for the record I still think you’re a total legend! ❤️). As I walked down the stairs into the dining hall I heard a table on the far corner calling me over by name. L and his friends on the course were sat on the table with our other interpreter (the beautiful Nadia) and had saved me a seat on their table to eat with them. I am someone who was always picked practically last for school sports teams, so needless to say I was so touched I could have spent the rest of the lunchtime in tears that after just a little praise L was touched enough to let down his barriers and share lunch with me.

And wow, what a lunch! These guys (L, M and R) are crazy in the best way and with massive translating assistance from Nadia we all laughed so much! They showed me some videos of breakdancing and promised to teach me on Saturday when a fun outing would be organised. Then one of the lads started playing games with the caterers and managed to get bowl after bowl of tuna pasta and basket after basket of bread it was madness and all very funny. None of the food was wasted though, one lad ate 3 bowls and another 2 bowls. Plus about 5 baskets of bread were polished off quite quickly. These kids know how to make their own fun. I also started to be taught my first Romanian words which were counting from one to five. I promised to make the effort and learn these numbers by heart before they took me up to ten, I had learned over 35 new names in 3 days, pretty good going I thought. You want me to tell you now? Unu, doi, tres, patru, cinci. Thank you 😊

imageAfter lunch came my opportunity to demonstrate a haircut to the whole group and was given Wella’s ‘line below the shoulder’ haircut, which at TONI&GUY we call ‘One Length’. Under Jenna’s expert supervision we were making sure that we delivered our demonstrations the Wella way to save confusion to the students. I felt it went well and Lilly worked with me to translate everything into Romanian, although there was a bit of a discussion on how best to translate the technical term ‘horseshoe section’! I was more nervous than I thought though as when I started cutting my hands were shaking so much! Working in front of an international crowd of hairdressers for the first time was nerve racking. Following my demonstration the students had to replicate the cut on dolls heads (blocks). I had great fun working with my four girls and was so impressed with how they wanted to do everything themselves, even when it came to correcting their mistakes I wasn’t allowed to touch the hair! All the students achieved brilliant results, and again it was humbling to see the change in their attitudes and confidence during the day.

The day finished with a group hug, the students headed off after a few more hugs and us mentors all made our way back to the Pension for a quick turnaround and headed out for dinner. Four of us wandered off on foot to another Pension with a restaurant down the road, and I spent my second night being red wine friends with Hanne, sharing a similar sense of humour and laughing together a little too much! Other mentors joined us after a short time and they were followed by the UNICEF team. I enjoyed sharing the experiences of our first day with the rest of the team.

Once we got back to the pension, I’m not afraid to admit I had my first good cry in the room. The change in the confidence of the students is so incredible after just one day. None of us have any idea how lucky we are back at home, and many people approach their daily lives with so much aggression towards each other, yet these kids that have had a much worse start than the majority of us are so warm natured and kind hearted. It puts our ‘modern world’ to shame, we all need to wake up to the possibility that most of us are playing this life game completely wrong.

This is day one with the students and I have witnessed and experienced great change already. All I can say at this stage is whatever talent or skill you have in life, no matter how small and insignificant you think it may be, somebody somewhere would benefit from even a day of your time. Seriously, think about it. Be creative and make the time to give something back. We can thank Pablo Picasso for his quote: “The meaning of life is to find your gift, the purpose of life is to give it away”. This trip is going to be a game changer for me.

#wellalove ❤️ #makingwaves