Cutting hair for a cause

The Vescada Salon is usually closed on Sundays, but at this past weekends Beauty for a Cause event, tresses were.

The Vescada Salon is usually closed on Sundays, but at this past weekends Beauty for a Cause event, tresses were tamed and skin was soothed under the glaring overhead lamps.

But it wasnt for profit. Organizer and hair stylist Kelly Le, sisters Maggie Le (an aesthetician) and Lilo Le (a makeup artist), and stylists Dat Tran and Hung Nguyen donated Sundays salon revenues to the Vietnamese Association of Toronto, a non-profit organization set up to help Vietnamese refugees settle in Canada.

About 50,000 Vietnamese refugees have come to Canada between 1975 and now, but a policy shift in the late 80s made it more difficult, leaving many stranded in Thailand. In 2005, Canadas Vietnamese community negotiated a settlement with Citizenship and Immigration Canada to allow 105 of them to come here, provided Vietnamese-Canadians stepped up to support newcomers. Beauty for a Cause is part of that deal.

It is heartwarming to see our efforts being supported by the community, says Mark Nguyen, executive director of the Vietnamese Association of Toronto. The revenue from several fundraisers including Beauty for a Cause will allow the organization to be more sensitive to the refugees needs.

For example, says Nguyen, the association will be able to buy new school bags for kids about to enter school for the first time. We want to make their first experience at school something very memorable for the rest of their life, says Nguyen.

Le was once a refugee too. She was one of the boat people referencing the refugees who fled Vietnam by boat in 1975 who escaped post-war famine on a tiny fishing vessel, accompanied only by her aunt. They landed in Malaysia, where they lived in a rat-infested refugee camp for four years. The two were accepted into Canada four years later.

Le decided to become a hair stylist and makeup artist to help people feel good. You contribute to their confidence that gives me a lot of satisfaction, she says.

In addition to helping Torontonians feel beautiful, Le also established a charity of her own, Help Kids to School Foundation, which has already successfully opened a school in Vietnam. Volunteers teach kids not only reading and writing, but also how to resist child sex traffickers.

Le says she does it because she identifies with the current crop of Vietnamese refugees trying to start over from scratch.

I had my own trauma, she says. When you start out in tough [times] you either grow bitter or feel sympathy for those similar to you.

At the end of Sundays event, Kelly Le still looked fresh, with her smooth, waist-length hair and immaculate red lipstick. She was pleased with the outcome volunteers have served nine clients and netted $535.

I feel very happy and rewarded that we were able to make a small contribution for the refugees,” she said. “That is the meaning of Christmas.

To find out about upcoming events to support Vietnamese at home or in Canada see

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