Our Stories: Inspiring confidence with a neat haircut

Inspiring confidence with a haircut


Without her realising, Paulyne Tan, 59, had reached her 10-year milestone of offering free haircuts to the students of Towner Gardens School (TGS).

Her journey as a volunteer hairstylist began when she tagged along with a friend to give free haircuts to adults with disabilities at a day activity centre. As a salon owner and a hairdresser of 38 years, she surmised that she could offer her skills to help. This was the beginning of her monthly visits to the centre. “I had no expectation of the task. I only knew that I was happy to do whatever I could for them in terms of hair-cutting and this I did to my level best”, Paulyne shared. 

Paulyne continued volunteering in the day activity centre and met Mrs Agnes Sim – a teacher from TGS. During their conversation, she learnt of the challenges some parents of children with special needs faced in bringing their child for a hairdressing session. She then decided to extend her monthly voluntary hairdressing services to TGS. Before the onset of COVID-19, Paulyne had been giving haircuts to students under the Financial Assistance Scheme (FAS) every 6 weeks.

Despite having experience volunteering with adults with special needs, Paulyne initially faced some challenges as she was new to the students of TGS. Students with anxiety or sensory difficulties could be difficult to manage as they would struggle to get out of their seat or refuse to let their head be touched. Paulyne credits the teachers of TGS for smoothening these initially bumps, “These students however, are usually supported by their teachers who know them well. The teachers would use their own strategies and distractions to calm them, thus assisting me in my work”. 

She added that there were also students who were undaunted and comfortably made their way into the room themselves for their haircut. Challenges aside, Paulyne remains unfazed. She says: “I take everything in my stride as my priority is to give them a neat haircut”. Paulyne finds it especially rewarding when a student with unruly hair enters the room and leaves looking completely new with a neat and clean haircut. 

I feel blessed to be able to help others. In fact, it is a blessing that I am able to give my service to others when the call comes.
My colleagues and I enjoy volunteering. It does not take up much of our time and we can afford the time.

Paulyne Tan
Hairstylist Volunteer

Describing her experiences volunteering with the students of TGS, Paulyne shares, “… students are just lovable. After their haircut, they communicate their thanks – not necessarily by articulating the words – but in their own way. Some students are really happy to see us. They know that a haircut can be transformative and that they will look good”. Teachers in TGS have recounted to her how a particular student who would go to the toilet to peer into the mirror every time after receiving a haircut from her.

Paulyne has learned many lessons in her time as a volunteer, including a deeper understanding of and empathy for persons with special needs. She also learned to observe the social interactions and patterns of the customers in her salon more closely. “Sometimes, a whole family would accompany a child with special needs to the salon for a (simple) haircut. You would need to appreciate the effort they made and in turn, ensure that the child gets the good haircut that he deserves”.

Expressing how society is often demanding of time and people often want things to be done fast, Paulyne stressed that patience is vital when volunteering with children with special needs. “You have to wait and let them take their time and not expect them to comply with your instructions immediately”. She adds, “You must also have the passion if you want to work with children with special needs”. Paulyne noted that during her hairdressing sessions, she observed how every teacher seemed to know all of the students in the room by name, even if they were not the students’ class teacher. She found this is to be an example of passion – to be able to develop such bonds with the students.

When asked her greatest motivation in volunteering is, Paulyne shared: “I feel blessed to be able to help others. In fact, it is a blessing that I am able to give my service to others when the call comes. My colleagues and I enjoy volunteering. It does not take up much of our time and we can afford the time”.

With COVID-19 restrictions placing an indefinite hold to her routine at TGS, Paulyne now keeps herself busy with ceramic art on days scheduled for haircutting. She feels that her 10-year journey volunteering with TGS has been a fulfilling one and looks forward to meeting the students again.

As MINDS celebrates its 60th anniversary, we invite conversations that challenge the stereotypes and stigma against persons with intellectual disabilities (PWIDs), and encourage meaningful interactions with PWIDs. 

Here at MINDS, we value the time and skills our volunteers share with our clients, and recognise the impact they have on our clients’ wellbeing and quality of life.

Be a friend of our MINDS community! Explore volunteering opportunities or consider donating to our cause.

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NOTICE OF THE 59TH ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING OF MINDS: NOTICE is hereby given that the 59th Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS) will be held by way of electronic means as follows: Date: Saturday , 18 September 2020 Time: 9:30am (Registration starts at 8:30am) Venue: Online via ZOOM MINDS members will be receiving an email on the notice of AGM and are strongly encouraged to register your attendance to facilitate the verification process on the day of the AGM. For enquiries regardingthe AGM, members may email to agm@minds.org.sg or call 849607358