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KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 10 — Nur Azmina Ahmad Burhan runs her hands through the greying hair of the man in front of her. She works quickly, snipping his crowning glory into shape.
Nothing unusual about this scene except it is taking place in the shadows of Kota Raya, one of the oldest shopping malls in the middle of the city.
The 26-year-old professional hairstylist, a volunteer with the Pertiwi soup kitchen, bantered with several homeless people as they queued up for a free haircut on a hot, sticky night at Kota Raya.
So why does she do this? Quite simply, Azmina wants the homeless to “look good” despite living on the streets.
“I treat them like my clients, not as homeless people,” Azmina told The Malay Mail Online recently, as she put her clippers to work underneath fluorescent lights.
“The human touch is very important… when I touch their hair, I feel comfortable. So, they feel comfortable too,” she said, as she talked about an old man who used to fall asleep whenever she cut his hair.
Someone in the queue asks her what styles of haircuts she does, to which she cheerfully replies: “I can do mohawks. Beckham, too. Of course, if you want to be shaved bald, that’ll take no time at all.”
Azmina has been cutting hair for the homeless for a year, after she spent two years doing other volunteer duties like monitoring the drinks station at the Pertiwi mobile soup kitchen that goes to Chow Kit, Kota Raya and Masjid India four times a week.
“You sleep happy. This kind of experience, money can’t buy,” she said.
Pertiwi is a Muslim women’s non-governmental organisation (NGO), whose soup kitchen in 2010 had 14 volunteers, but has since expanded to 60 volunteers a night, according to Azmina.
Azmina, who opened her own salon in Damansara Heights seven years ago, trims the hair of the less fortunate for some two hours about once a fortnight on Sundays in Chow Kit and Kota Raya.
Each customer takes about 15 minutes, though occasionally, Azmina will get clients with difficult hairstyles, such as the man with the Afro whose recent haircut took 25 minutes. Azmina handles nine customers on a single night on average.
She said that her mother used to tell her to use gloves when cutting hair for the homeless, to which she would say: “What if I cut your hair with gloves? How would you feel?”
The young woman pointed out that contrary to popular belief, the homeless were generally very clean.
“There is no smell or lice, except that it’s greasy if they don’t wash their hair for weeks,” said Azmina.
As most of her clients are men, Azmina’s 25-year-old male cousin, who wished only to be known as Ali, acts as her “bodyguard.”
“They don’t need the haircut sometimes; they just want the human touch,” said Ali, as he swept up excess hair from the floor.
Azmina noted that her overwhelmingly male clientele in the streets might be a deterrent to women who wish to get a free haircut.
As she trimmed William’s hair — the 28-year-old homeless man sleeps in the KL Sentral LRT station — he suggested regulating the queue by issuing numbers.
“You should do a number system, like one to 20,” he said, while waiting for his turn in the amorphous line.
“That’s a good idea,” Azmina replied, smiling.
After their haircut, Azmina’s clients walk away looking visibly better than when they were queuing up. It is true that a good haircut can make you feel better about yourself.