Here at Young Upstarts we absolutely love stories of how young people turn an interest into a venture, but we’re just as excited to hear how they put the same interest into something that helps the communities in which they live in.
Take Sue Lee Seng, for example – the 30 year-old Melbourne, Australia-based architect may spend her formal hours designing buildings, but she puts some of her free time into RIAH, her hairdressing “business”. RIAH (“hair” in reverse) is Sue Lee’s pay-as-you-feel hairdressing service for weddings – brides decide how much they want to give for her service – and 10-percent of the proceeds goes to Operation Stitches, a Melbourne-based non-profit organization which empowers children who live in inner-city public housing (which sees a lot of drugs, crime and other socio-economic challenges) to make good life choices.
The seed for RIAH was first sown five years ago when Sue Lee, without any formal hairdressing training, decided to pick up some curlers to help out during a good friend’s wedding which took place in rural Daylesford in Victoria, Australia. “There was no hairdresser to do her bridesmaids, so I offered to without any experience and with just a curler I borrowed from another friend, hairspray and lots of pins,” she remembers. “It was so much fun and I was surprised at what I did!”
But perhaps Sue Lee shouldn’t have been so surprised. When she was a little girl, her mom would give her Barbie dolls to play – and she’d go nuts experimenting with hairstyles for the dolls. She’s also kept long hair years back and would try crazy hairstyles on herself. Five years down, she’s done quite a number of hairdos for weddings and formals. In some cases she’s done them for free, so it’s probably fair to say she’s not doing this for the money.
Sue Lee feels a great burden for community development, especially for those stuck in the lower socio-economic strata. She’s been helping out at Operation Stitches as a volunteer for around two years, giving a day of each work week giving tuition to Melbourne’s needy inner city youth as well as other forms of help. “I cannot do everything but i must do something,” Sue Lee insists. So she’s also turned this new-found talent for hairdressing to not only help beautify brides on their special day, but also provide a source of funds – however meagre – to helping this segment of society.
“My ethos is such that my client places value on my skill as I serve them on the day,” she explains. “I can do the heart and hard work and all they need to do is give.”
“Whatever amount they give, i give 10-percent to Operation Stitches. Every dollar makes a difference.”
Sue Lee would later find out that RIAH actually means “flowing streams” in Greek. It is seemingly appropriate that, like the streams of living water that creates and sustains life and communities, her humble efforts with RIAH is also aiming to do exactly that.