By Maureen Chiamaka Dilo
How many disabled homes have you been to since 2020?
I have been to some areas, mostly in Anambra and Asaba because of school. I won’t be able to travel to far places. But there’s one at Amenyi Awka that I frequent. I also visit so many other places, public schools actually to give them free hair cut most times.
You’ve been a barber for some years now, how many girls have you been able to train and is there any criteria for getting trained?
Because of the time and also being the first child, I also have my own personal life to live, I can’t really say I have trained someone but I have people that work with me. I have two girls that joined me. They started because of my charity work. They just want to help me, it is not that they wanted to become a barber. So, whenever I go to cut, they help me out.
But I am working on that by God’s grace. I am still in school and combining everything is quite tasking. But I have three girls in different locations and they started barbing because of me.
I have two that I paid for their training but I don’t have the time to sit and train them. I go to school from Monday to Friday. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, I go to work. So, I won’t be able to really give them that time. Unless I have somewhere that I can call my own. I am working on that too.
Do you have a shop of your own?
No, I don’t have a shop of my own. Basically, what I do is that I go to the place I work. I have somewhere that I work in Awka here and I also give home services too. The children I go to barb are my priority now until I have my own shop, which I am working on.
What inspired you to going to disabled homes?
It has always been there. I have loved these children. I love to give back. My parents were the ones that started it for me. Growing up, I saw my parents help people. Till date my Dad cannot see an accident scene and drive past it. It was annoying to me then. Maybe, we will be going to school, maybe there is an accident and my father will stop so that we get to know what is happening. My parents laid the foundation for me.
They said that I should follow that example without knowing. So, they are the ones that inspired me to do what I am doing today. I have always known that I love helping people. I have always helped people in the little ways that I could. When I became a barber, I said to myself that this is what I can also do. I have other guys that barb, they join me. I try to make people understand that with that gift that you have, with that skill that you have, you can also help people. It is not about giving these people money.
Fine, they want money, but there is this happiness that they have when they know that other people love them. There is this place that I visit in Awka, I am like their mother. So many of them are older than I am but they feel loved whenever they see me. It is not also all about giving them the hair cut or giving them money; but I try to bath them, sit with them, eat and play with them.
I know it’s weird. Sometimes, people call me a weird person but I just want these people to feel loved and teach other people that they can help others with their skills. I have someone that works with me; she is a seamstress. Most of their uniforms we sew for secondary schools and schools for the disabled, she is the one that sews them. She has been working with me like for three years now. That’s just what I want people to understand. Nobody chose this for me, I chose it for myself.
You are able to joggle academics and business, what have been your challenges so far?
I do have physical challenge, sometimes, I might be worn out. I am a human being so these things are bound to happen. Sometimes I will just be tired and sick. Another challenge is getting people to help out. It is not everybody that wants to help. I have come to realize that it is not everybody that will like to do that which I am doing. Some persons care just about money.
For instance, I love money but there are some things that come first before that money. I am not saying every other person should be like me, but I love to serve humanity and I love to give back to the society. By God’s grace, I have always been lucky. Any time I go out to seek for money, I have always found it. I don’t know how but I am sure that God always provides for me.
Sometimes I face temptations. Other times, when I visit these children, some will want to fight me. The first day I went there, one of them stoned me. The proprietor was begging me, she was so sorry. It was very painful. It happened again last month, they are disabled so I try to understand them. If you don’t have patience, you will not be able to do it.
I am starting little and it is really hard to find a volunteer. I am trying to do it with the little thing that I have. I go there, show them love. The truth is that you must not be rich to help people. You can just start with the little that you have, So the challenges are always there, even side talks from people. You hear people tell me that my life is all about charity, one day, you will give your head because of charity.
But I don’t listen to them, because this is what I love doing. I didn’t choose this life for myself, God did. Before, I used to be very angry with God about my rape experience but after a while, becoming who I am today, I realized that there must be a reason for that. Now, I am able to stand up for myself, talk about it and talk to victims about it. I felt He just allowed it to happen so that I could be able to help other people. It has not been easy but God has been helping me.
Barbing is an occupation dominated by male folks, so what are the challenges you face in trying to take up the career?
One is, some of the guys will not want me to give them a haircut. They are like, she is a lady, why would she cut my hair. Some people even try to talk me down. Oh, you are beautiful, you are this and that, Why are you a barber. This kind of job is too dirty. But I have developed a thick skin now. Then it was not easy. Sometimes then, I will go to the convenience to cry.
I weep and ask myself, why will people be talking to me in that manner. Why can’t they love me and take me for who I am. At some point, I braced up: say whatever you want to say and do whatever you want to do. Even my fellow gender talks down on me too. Some people just want me to stop what I am doing, that’s just the challenge.
You were raped before, and now you are a barber, how were you able to manage to take up this job?
The thing there is that if you are running away from something, it will definitely come back to you. I just had to face my fear. Yes, I had the thoughts, I knew I was going close to them, what if they rape me? Rapist is not written on anyone’s head. After the rape incidence, I got healed at some point before I took up the job. I knew I had always wanted to be different. It was not easy.
I saw my fears, I knew they were there but I just had to face them. I have started to love men. They are actually good people; my dad is one and I have a brother. I decided to change the way I see them because before the rape, I have always known good people. Yes, the molestations were there.
So many of them that were supposed to protect me abused me. I saw a therapist because sometimes suicidal thought of it sets in. I know a girl that actually killed herself because she was raped. Being raped is crazy. The healing process is not easy. Sometimes, you look at your body and it does not feel like your body anymore.
During your days of apprenticeship as a barber, did you experience sexual harassment from men?
Luckily for me, I told the guy who owned the shop my story. So, he never allowed such to happen. He took me like his blood so he never tolerated such. Some thought I was his girlfriend, he protected me so much and didn’t allow any harm come my way those days.
You said you loved to write, so what genre do you write on?
My writings are actually inspirational. It comes from my experience and things that I have seen other people experience. And also, with my story I try to help people, I talk and write about it for others to know that there is actually a way to heal. Yes, the thing doesn’t just go. I always tell people; the pain doesn’t go entirely. Sometimes, it comes back and you start crying. You are human and these things come with emotions. So, in summary, I just write life experiences.
You post these write ups on social media; how do you deal with the critics?
Hmmm. I have developed a thick skin. My mind is made up. This is what I want to do. I have a mentor and he always tells me, If you want to do these things and you are ready to come out and talk, you have to forget what people have to say. Because definitely people must talk.
I have few people that keep encouraging me, they will always say, Maureen, don’t mind what people will say, do what you are doing. Some will come to me and ask, why are you talking about this, you were raped and so? Can’t you keep your mouth shut? Why will I keep my mouth shut? I have been silent for many years and I decided to talk to help people now. The critics come and I don’t care.
In the aspect of helping people, some come to ask me: why are you so close to these people? You are a single lady, not yet married, what if you have a child and it turns out the he or she is disabled? I refer them back to the Bible. Jesus Christ dinned with those whom the world think are abnormal. Jesus Christ dinned with every kind of person. If Jesus dinned with these calibers of people, why can’t I dine with them? We were created in the image and likeness of God. We have to live the way Christ lived.
The critics come; people try to talk down on me but I have become strong. Before when they talk, I will start crying but now, they talk and I just simply keep quiet. If I have the time, I might reply you but if I see no need for that, I will not make any reply. I can’t keep quiet because if I do, there are many people who are dying. Just for a period of two years that I have shared my story, I know so many girls that have been able to confide in me that this was what they went through. These are people that you will pass on the road and you won’t know that they are going through a lot.