The 26-year-old man wraps the thin black cape around his 74-year-old grandmother’s shoulders.
“Now I can help my grandmother,” Carlo says as he looks at his grandmother’s reflection in the mirror on the wall.
Carlo is one of 2,272 poor, disabled, and marginalized young people in the Philippines who have been helped by Plan International to start up their own small businesses through a project funded by Accenture. Before beneficiaries are provided with start-up capital, Plan provides them with life skills and business development training to ensure that their ventures are successful.
He starts cutting his grandmother Aurea’s hair while he tells his story.
I have a disability. I cannot walk properly. I also feel numbness in my right hand. It’s been like this since I was a child.
My mother left me with my grandmother after my parents separated. I have been with her since I was a toddler.
When I was a child, I felt normal. But growing up, I realized that there was something different about me. I was not like other teenagers.
But I did not want my disability to dictate my life. I needed to find the means to stand up for myself and help my grandmother, especially now that she is getting old.
I was 17 years old when I first started cutting hair. From then on, my neighbors would ask me to cut their hair. I started earning money. It was not much, but it covered my needs.
Then my mother came home and asked me if I wanted to come and live with her. I said yes and moved to Tacloban City, leaving behind my dream of becoming a barber.
I wanted to experience what it feels like to be taken care of by a mother. But, life was not easy. I tried working in a store but not everyone was nice to me, so I quit.
I looked for another job, but I failed. I guess it was because I have a disability. They thought that I couldn’t do what a normal teenager can do.
After a few months, I decided to go home to my grandmother to be a barber again. I cut my neighbor’s hair under a banana tree outside my grandmother’s house. I used to do a home service as well to our neighboring villages. I only had my pair of scissors back then.
When it rained, we either ran to my grandmother’s house or found a shed, or we stayed and got soaked.
Despite this, I never thought of quitting. I have friends and neighbors who have been supporting me. They trust me with their hair. It gives me confidence.
There were times when my friends brought their friends who needed a haircut. But when they saw my condition, they became hesitant. It felt like I needed to convince them that I could do it.
Admittedly, at first I was offended. But now, it doesn’t bother me as much. My main concern is earning a living. But, my income was not enough. I had to work many hours.
It was like that for seven years. But, things changed when Plan International came to our village. They offered help to the local young people. I enquired with hesitation because I thought that they would not help people like me who have a disability.
I was overjoyed when they considered me. I become one of their youth beneficiaries.
Plan trained me on how to start and build a business. They then provided me with the capital to get off the ground. I was so happy to receive it. With the money, I immediately bought a razor and all the other equipment that a barber needs. I also built my own barbershop.
Now, my customers have increased threefold. I feel I am more professional with the barbershop. With my income, I am now helping my grandmother pay the electric bill and provide for her other needs at home.
I want my business to grow. It is rare for a disabled young person like me to be given the opportunity. This gives me the belief that I can survive and help my grandmother.
As I look back, I am happy that I did not allow my disability to dictate my life. Now, I have my own business and I have named my shop, Carlo’s Barbershop.