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Carlo's Barbershop: Youth skills in the Philippines

Twenty-six-year-old Carlo from the Philippines wraps a thin black cape around his 74-year-old grandmother's shoulders. "Now I can help my grandmother," Carlo says as he looks at her reflection in the mirror on the wall.

"When I was a child, I felt normal. But growing up, I realised that there was something different about me. I was not like any other teenagers," says Carlo.

Carlo is one of more than 2,000 young people who have been helped by Plan International to start up their own small businesses. Before beneficiaries are provided with start-up capital, Plan International provides them with life skills training on enterprise and business development to ensure that their businesses are successful. This project is funded by Accenture, a global professional services company. 

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 realised that there was something different about me. I was not like any 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 neighbours 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 want to come and live with her. I said yes. I moved to Tacloban City and left behind my dream of becoming a barber.

They thought that I couldn't do what a normal teenager can do.

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. I quit. I looked for another job, but I failed. I guess it was because I have disability. They thought that I couldn't do what a normal teenager can do.

After a few months, I decided to come home to my grandmother and returned to being a barber.  I cut my neighbour's hair under a banana tree outside my grandmother's house. I used to do a home service as well to our neighbouring 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 were soaked by the rain while I continued cutting hair.  

Despite this, I never thought of quitting. I have friends and neighbours 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. I admit, it was quite offensive but I do not think of it anymore. My concern was to earn a living.  But my income was not enough. I had to work many hours.

Help for young people

It was like that for 7 years. But things changed when Plan International came to our village. They offered help to the local young people. I inquired with hesitation because I thought that they would not help people like me who have a disability.

Carlo with his grandmother, Aurea.

I was overjoyed when they considered me. I become one of their youth beneficiaries. Plan International gave me training on how to start and build a business. They then provided me with a start-up capital of Php 15,000 (USD 357). 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 3 fold. 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 young people like me who have disability 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.

Learn more about Plan International's work in the Philippines.

Written by Mai Zamora, Plan International Philippines