Published: 11:14, June 12, 2024
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The 'little red hat' who gives free haircuts to the needy
By The Straits Times / ANN
Armed with scissors, shavers and combs, retired wealth adviser Mark Yuen, 69, has been giving free haircuts to seniors and the needy since 2016. (PHOTO / THE STRAITS TIMES)

On the first Tuesday of every month, residents at Beo Crescent in the Tiong Bahru area of Singapore can be seen shuffling to the void deck of Block 26.

They form a neat line, take a number and wait patiently for their turn.

Within half an hour, they leave with their hair trimmed, hearts full and wearing smiles — thanks to Mark Yuen, who is, more often than not, wearing his trademark red beret.

Getting the seniors outside their homes and spending time with other residents and volunteers, I hope it will give them a sense of community care and love ... that they are not alone.

Mark Yuen, retiree offering free haircuts to seniors in Singapore

Since 2016, the 69-year-old retired wealth adviser has traveled all over the island giving free haircuts to the elderly and the needy.

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Armed with scissors, shavers and combs, Yuen — nicknamed "Little Red Hat" by some of his "customers" — provides the service at various places, including nursing homes and senior centers, three or four times a week.

He also makes house calls for people who are bedridden or immobile.

"At the end of the haircut, when I see them smile and they say 'thank you', it rejuvenates me," he said. "Sometimes, the new haircut makes them feel neat and look younger."

Yuen's haircut sessions are also a good way for his elderly patrons to socialize. "Getting the seniors outside their homes and spending time with other residents and volunteers, I hope it will give them a sense of community care and love ... that they are not alone," he said.

When The Straits Times went to observe one such session in May, the seniors were seen arriving at the void deck as early as 8 am. While waiting for their turn to have their hair trimmed, some chatted with one another or with the six volunteers who were there to assist Yuen.

About 50 residents turned up, most of whom were senior citizens.

Yuen recalled a time when he helped a man who had not cut his hair for 13 years. "He liked his haircut. It felt very rewarding and gave me a different sense of achievement."

Some may consider his involvement in cutting people's hair an accomplishment. He picked up the skill in 2016 at 61, an age when some may be looking to put their feet up and enjoy retirement.

He said: "After I retired, I wanted to learn something that would enable me to give back to society."

He took about three months to complete a 150-hour course before taking an exam to be certified.

The journey was not without its challenges, he said. Self-doubt, back pain and even difficulty holding the scissors and maintaining his focus were obstacles he had to overcome.

During the course, he gave a bedridden senior a free haircut and it planted the idea in him to provide such a service for the less fortunate.

Yuen is not alone in his act of altruism.

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In 2016, he organized a group of volunteers called Team MDI — named after the hair salon where he was trained — so that they could join the sessions to offer free haircuts for seniors and those from lower-income groups.

With a Facebook page and by word of mouth, the team has since grown to nearly 100 volunteers.

One of the newest volunteers in the team is 27-year-old Ismail Bouaouine from Morocco, who arrived in Singapore about a month ago.

The hairdresser, who also provided free haircuts and dinner back in his home country, said: "I feel that I should make people happy and show them that there is good in life."