Ibrahim Musa knows what it’s like to feel different from his peers. Now 18, he arrived in Canada as a refugee from Iraq with his parents in 2002.
“I grew up low-income – my parents earned minimum wage despite their university degrees, which weren’t recognized here,” he explains. “They had to work and go back to school to get new degrees to support their kids.”
Ibrahim’s parents worked hard, as did he, but that didn’t stop him from being affected by self-esteem issues. “I knew I was different. My hair was different, my clothes were different – sometimes I was embarrassed to bring friends home to my house because I knew my home was not the same as theirs.”
But it was those tough times that spurred Ibrahim to action. Last year he founded a charitable organization called Cuts for Kids Foundation, which provides free haircuts for low-income Ottawa kids.
“Many of us see a haircut as a basic amenity,” Ibrahim notes, but he knows all too well that it’s not as simple as that for all residents of Ottawa. “If you’re going to a job interview, or starting back to school, a haircut offers a fresh start, some self-esteem. It goes way past hygiene to the mental health of our youth.”
Ibrahim made sure that Cuts for Kids is open to any low-income person between the ages of 3-17 whether they are homeless, have lived here their entire lives, are members of indigenous or diverse communities, or are newcomers to the city.
Ibrahim is supported in his work by numerous barbers and hairstylists who volunteer their time, particularly Ottawa’s Hairfellas Barbershop. He is also a Tenant Ambassador for Ottawa Community Housing (OCH), a relationship which has proved invaluable when organizing the events Cuts for Kids holds across the city throughout the year.
“Every month we hold one or two events at a local community centre or club,” says Ibrahim. The events are 3-5 hours in length and there are often booths set up to provide information on other services available to local families, such as employment, health, sports or food support.
“It’s about dignity – packaging something so that you are giving people their dignity,” concludes Ibrahim about Cuts for Kids, a remarkable organization created by a young man whose compassion and dedication to Ottawa is clearly a cut above.
For more information on Cuts for Kids go to www.cutsforkids.org/