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In February of 2014, stylist Kim Detken of KD Hair Designs in Sola Salons Costa Mesa went on the adventure of a lifetime: a two-week trip throughout Cambodia. Instead of days filled with sightseeing, Kim arrived in Cambodia with a team of ten stylists as part of the Rapha House Freedom Salon education program. Backed by the philanthropic mission of targeting girls who are at risk of being trafficked in the regions’ sex trade, the Freedom Salon program provides these youth with skills in hair styling and salon management as a means of providing them with tangible business skills to ensure their long term health and safety.

Kim’s team began at the Freedom Salon of Phnom Penh where they spent several days teaching a group of 13 girls how to do a basic haircut and other styling techniques. The newly trained stylists traveled along with their Freedom Stylist mentors to Kids Club, a Rapha House partner site, where they used their freshly acquired skills to give over 100 cuts to young children. Although the seasoned salon professionals were present, a majority of the services were performed by the new stylists, which allowed them to put their newly acquired skills to practical and much needed use. As a left-handed stylist, Kim worked closely with 2 new stylists who needed the technical left-hand guidance. “We didn’t speak each other’s language at all,” explained Kim, “instead we communicated through visual cues and hand gestures, but really these girls had an innate sense for how to cut.”

With two exceptional new stylists in tow, the Freedom Stylists traveled to different cities and visited Rapha House locations where their services could be used. “We would arrive and another 150 kids would need their hair cut,” Kim recounted. “You’re dealing with lice, you’re dealing with AIDS, you’re dealing with illness and you can’t bat an eye. We would slick our hair back with tea tree oil and just go.”

The stylists were also confronted with a lack of sanitation laws. Often times the same brush and comb were used on the same clients, which meant communicable parasites such as lice were rampant. The Freedom Stylists used this as an opportunity to teach about basic sanitation practices and health awareness in their trainings. On the other hand, the Stylists were also respectful of cultural traditions, such as removal of shoes in a living space, and performed all of their cuts barefoot. Prior to the trip, Kim exceeded her $4000 fundraising goal and was able to donate her surplus funds to help the Freedom Salon purchase much-needed chairs and tools for their physical location. Kim was also able to creatively partner with her Sola location through a referral program, which allowed her to cover her lease and salon income while she was on her trip.

“The girls really valued the time we took to be with them and really appreciated that they got a second chance. They didn’t waste anytime at all and learned every single thing they could.” On the last day of her trip, Kim allowed one of the new stylists to cut her hair, who did so flawlessly, knowing precisely what to cut and when to cut it. She also solidified a bond with one of the girls and continues to sponsor her food, education and housing through a $30 per month contribution.

“I would go back in a heartbeat,” Kim exclaimed. “If there was a group of Sola Stylists that wanted to make the trip, I would 100% go back.” To learn more about the Freedom Salon program and how you can support the cause within your existing salons, visit the Freedom Salon website.

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