Steady hands cut it in hairy times

Local | Mandy Zheng 3 Aug 2020

With trembling hands, Andy (not his real name) has found his second calling - as a barber for fellow sufferers of Parkinson's disease.

The 58-year-old retiree has served as a volunteer hairdresser for some 20 male patients, who often feel reluctant about going to the barber's for fear their bodies might shake during the haircut.

"It's awkward, as you have to apologize [to barbers] in advance, and there are judgmental eyes sometimes," said Andy, whose condition has improved after receiving deep brain stimulation surgery in 2013.

Andy, who has been living with Parkinson's for 20 years, is among nearly 30,000 chronically ill volunteers who joined a charity project supporting about 90,000 patients and their caregivers facing new challenges in the time of pandemic.

The scheme, launched by the Hong Kong Society for Rehabilitation last month and funded by Hong Kong Jockey Club, aims to assist more than 200 patient mutual help groups in the SAR expand their volunteering activities, connect with social workers and acquire funds.

"What's unique about such groups is that patients can see their roles constantly changing between receivers and givers [of help]. This is self-empowerment," said Maggie Lo Shuk-man, a deputy manager at the society.

The pandemic has made it harder for those with long-term illnesses to exercise or talk to people who have had similar experiences, Lo said. "It's quite depressing now. Mutual help groups cannot see to patients' needs as soon as possible."

About 1.37 million people - 19 percent of the SAR's population - had chronic diseases in 2013, latest official statistics show.

Andy has only been to one hairdressing event since the pandemic.

"A man I served said he wanted to book me again to cut his hair," he recalled. "On hearing that, I felt a bit more valued."

After receiving training from professional barbers for two months, Andy started going to charity centers to serve other patients, despite not feeling too confident about his skills.

"I've never tried cutting a woman's hair, as I'm too afraid that she may not be satisfied. With men I am bolder, spending 10 minutes per person," Andy said.

"Some patients would say 'Just take it easy and trim it a bit.' Then I know they are nervous about having me as a barber," he said with a laugh.

Still, Andy said he knows how limited the choices are for Parkinson's disease patients to get a haircut, adding: "My ex-wife had to learn hairdressing just because I wouldn't go to a barber."

Another team of volunteers has translated Covid-19 materials into Malaysian and Indonesian for domestic helpers caring for the physically disabled.

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